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Massive Trade Agreement (TPP) Pushed By Obama for Big Pharma Would Slash Access to Generic Drugs

(Photo: Images Money/flickr/cc)
(Photo: Images Money/flickr/cc)
By Sarah Lazare
With another round of Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations slated for the end of this month, the administration of President Barack Obama is aiming to force developing nations to adopt Big Pharma-friendly policies that are so bad for public health Obama himself has opposed them in the United States.

Citing leaked drafts of the agreement, as well as officials "familiar with the latest May 11 version," Bloomberg journalist Peter Gosselin reported Friday that the deal is likely to include provisions that are almost certain to hike medicine costs while slashing access to generic drugs around the world: "At stake: hundreds of billions of dollars or more in extra costs that consumers may have to pay if the proposals make it harder for cheaper generics to win approval."

In the negotiations, Obama is pursuing corporate-friendly policies he has rejected at home.

For example, "U.S. negotiators want to win makers of advanced drugs 12 years of exclusivity for data that might otherwise help competitors produce similar, cheaper versions," wrote Gosselin. However, the Obama administration has sought, within the United States, to reduce that period to seven years.

But it doesn't stop there. "Negotiators are also seeking language to make it easier for the big drugmakers to win 'secondary' patents to strengthen their control over products," Gosselin continued. But domestically, the administration "has proposed changing U.S. law to make it harder to get such add-ons," Gosselin explained.

Obama is poised to not only foist these policies on other countries, but to trap the U.S. in them as well.

What's more, said Gosselin, the United States "has negotiators pressing the region’s developing countries to sign onto a schedule for adopting the stronger rules, reversing previous exemptions to allow them easier access to cheap medicines."

Obama is reportedly meeting opposition from countries involved in the negotiations. Meanwhile, global civil society and social movement groups have staged their strong opposition to the deal with protests, open letters, and organizing. However, resistance would likely be even greater if the contents of the talks were shared with the global public.

Under negotiation since at least 2008, the deal is poised to be the largest corporate agreement in history yet has been negotiated in extreme secrecy, with almost all of what's publicly known about the deal revealed through leaks. It includes the U.S. and 11 Pacific Rim countries—Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam—which together account for 40 percent of the world's GDP.

The information that is publicly available is bleak. In a recent video, humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres put it bluntly: "As it stands today, the TPP is slated to become the most harmful trade agreement ever for access to medicines."

As Common Dreams previously reported, the TPP would be a huge boon for pharmaceutical corporations while posing a threat to public health on a global scale. The deal also makes domestic health programs vulnerable, including Medicare. The watchdog group Public Citizen recently warned: "Pharmaceutical companies could attempt to exploit the general language of the annex to mount challenges to Medicare and health programs in many TPP negotiating countries."

Concerns with the deal extend far beyond access to medicines, however, with civil society groups sounding the alarm about the deal's implications for democracy, the environment, and corporate power. Among its many provisions, the agreement includes an "investor-state dispute settlement" system (ISDS)—which creates secret tribunals that allow multinationals to sue governments for loss of "expected future profit."

Reprinted with permission from Common Dreams.

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