Press release |

Trans-Pacific Partnership a threat to public health in Asia-Pacific region

Médecins Sans Frontières calls on Japan and other negotiating countries to resist attempts to restrict access to medicines

Tokyo, 15 March 2013 — Following Prime Minister Abe’s announcement today of Japan’s intention to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement negotiations, international medical humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) called on Japan and the rest of TPP negotiating countries to reject rules that threaten to dismantle internationally-agreed public health safeguards and restrict access to medicines in developing countries.

“MSF relies on affordable generic medicines for our medical work. In the case of HIV treatment, over 80 per cent of medicines used in developing countries are generics,” said Brian Davies, MSF Access Campaign Coordinator in Japan. “By rejecting any harsh demands on intellectual property, Japan can take a leading role in protecting access to life-saving medicines for people across the Asia-Pacific region.”

The TPP negotiations, which currently involve eleven Asia-Pacific countries, are being conducted in secret, but leaked texts reveal the United States is proposing the most aggressive intellectual property (IP) measures ever suggested in a trade deal with developing countries.  The inclusion of the current U.S. demands – which go beyond internationally-agreed public health safeguards – in any final agreement, will result in more years of high-priced medicines at the expense of people needing treatment, who must then wait longer for access to affordable generic medicines.

“Too many people already die needlessly because the medicines they need are too expensive or do not exist, and we cannot stand by as the Trans-Pacific Partnership threatens to further restrict access to medicines in developing countries,” said Dr. Unni Karunakara, International President of MSF.   “We are gravely concerned about countries like Thailand, where MSF started treating HIV/AIDS more than a decade ago and then transitioned its programmes to local authorities with the confidence that they would be able to continue providing lifesaving treatments.  Now Thailand is on the cusp of joining a dangerous deal that could jeopardise its ability to maintain, let alone scale up, vital, life-saving health programmes for its people.”

The proposed IP rules would grant the pharmaceutical industry a wide-ranging set of legal mechanisms designed to prolong monopoly protection for medicines and delay the availability of more affordable generic versions. Furthermore, U.S. negotiators have said the TPP will be a template for its future trade agreements across the globe, setting a damaging precedent. 

One proposed TPP provision would require governments to grant new 20-year patents for modifications of existing medicines, such as new forms, uses or methods, even without improvement of therapeutic efficacy for patients. Another provision would make it more expensive and cumbersome to challenge undeserved or invalid patents; and yet another would add additional years to a patent term to compensate for administrative processes. Taken together, these and other provisions will keep medicine prices high and out of the reach of millions in the Asia-Pacific region.

Despite widespread opposition to its current proposals, including from other negotiating countries, the U.S. has failed to put forth any alternative text, essentially running out the clock so countries may be forced to accept its original demands in order to meet the announced October 2013 deadline.

“The provisions currently on the table are among the harshest measures ever proposed for intellectual property in trade agreements. If negotiators run out of time and the agreement is hastily signed, it would simply choke off access to affordable medicines for everyone in the region”, said Davies. “MSF appeals to Japan and the other negotiating governments – don’t accept the provisions that will impact so many lives before you sign on the dotted line.”