11 December 2013Americas

Politicians plead with Obama over TPP drug rules

Six US congressman have implored President Barack Obama to ensure that the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) does not include measures that undermine access to affordable healthcare.

Written a day before the TPP negotiations were stalled until January 2014, the letter, dated December 9, also wants Obama to consult congressmen and the public before sanctioning a deal affecting “critical health issues”.

The letters follows Wikileaks’ publication, in November, of a TPP chapter on IP. It has provisions that would make it easier for pharmaceutical companies to obtain patents; have those patents for more than 20 years; and increase their ability to limit access to scientific data necessary for others to develop new medicines.

Those provisions have provoked significant  controversy in some quarters, with critics saying that the measures will raise the price of drugs and strain public healthcare systems, having particularly bad effects in poorer countries.

In their letter to Obama, Jan Schakowsky (Illinois), Rosa DeLauro (Connecticut), Barbara Lee (California), Michael Michaud (Maine), George Miller (California) and Peter Welch (Vermont) say the proposals on drug patents would have “profound and long-lasting” consequences.

“The effect of data exclusivity, patent registration and procedure, enforcement and other provisions would be to delay generic competition and increase the price of medicines. We have heard from numerous NGOs [non-governmental organisations] working on the ground around the world that this would seriously undermine their efforts, leading to preventable illnesses and death.”

Over the past several decades, the letter adds, “much work” has been done to balance the IP rights of pharma companies and the rights of countries to protect public health.

“The result has been a series of bipartisan agreements, most recently the Bipartisan Agreement on Trade Policy reached in May 2007.

“The TPP proposals under consideration would move away from that agreement, benefiting the interests of brand-name pharmaceutical companies by taking away the ability and flexibility of countries ... to act to protect their health interests,” the congressman state.

The letter also takes aim at the secrecy of the TPP negotiations, saying that “certainly, trade negotiations conducted behind closed doors are not the place to make changes that would have such profound consequences for patients”.

The 12 countries negotiating the TPP will meet again in January 2014, after announcing on December 10 that talks in Singapore had not yielded a final agreement.

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