TPPA trade-off sees loss of cheap drugs?

1 November 2012

Understand the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) FIONA CASSIE finds out more from public health campaigner Deborah Gleeson on why she believes nurses should know more.

Is the TPPA a great chance to sell more butter to Americans? Or a deal that could see New Zealand’s access to cheap drugs curtailed? Could it allow multinationals to legally challenge government public health policy they don’t like?

Deborah Gleeson, an Australian public health academic and campaigner, believes the latter two are more likely under the TPPA, which is currently under negotiation (see sidebars).

She is a campaigner for ‘healthy’ trade agreements, and she believes nurses and other health professional groups should grab the chance to influence the TPPA negotiators when they arrive in Auckland in December for the fifteenth round of talks behind closed doors.

Gleeson was brought here recently by NZNO and other interested parties to raise awareness of what public health advocates see as the risks of the trade deal being negotiated in secrecy.

While the New Zealand Government states it won’t negotiate away New Zealand’s public health system, Gleeson says leaked documents on intellectual property and transparency chapters of the draft TPPA indicate it could be at risk.

“There are a lot of different clauses in this intellectual property chapter that would keep medicines under patent for longer and would mean generic medicines would take longer to reach the market,” says Gleeson. “This means that the cost of medicines would go up for New Zealand.”

She says the leaked transparency material includes clauses that would prevent Pharmac using some of its cost-saving processes, like reference pricing drugs for the same clinical condition, and allowing companies to appeal what drugs are government-subsidised.

“I think Pharmac is particularly targeted because it’s so creative and they don’t want other countries taking up the Pharmac model.”

The other major area of concern to the public health campaigner is the inclusion of ISDS (investor state dispute settlement) provisions that could see multinationals challenging domestic government policies in fields like tobacco or alcohol control in international tribunals.

Australia’s experience of tobacco company Philip Morris taking it to court over its tobacco plain packaging policy, via a trade agreement with Hong Kong, has made it decide to no longer accept ISDS in trade agreements, including the TPPA. So while leaked text shows Australia excluding itself from the ISDS clause in TPPA,

New Zealand appears to still be supportive of the clause.

The talks in Auckland offer the chance for nurses and others to talk about concerns about the possible health impacts of TPPA.

“There is also likely to be some campaigning going on in protest about the secrecy of the negotiations because they are really big policy issues that many people are unhappy about being negotiated without democratic processes.”

For Gleeson, the issues should be broader than a focus on selling more butter.

“The New Zealand Government seems pretty keen to get market access to its dairy products, and the question is what it is prepared to give away for the remote possibility that it will get significant access for dairy exports.”

TPPA: the basics

• The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) aims to create a regional free trade agreement involving Asia Pacific countries. Initial parties were Australia, Brunei Darussalem, Chile, Malaysia, Peru, • Singapore, the United States, Vietnam, and New Zealand, with two more countries – Mexico and Canada – joining talks this year.

Negotiations began in October 2010, and a broad outline of a draft agreement was agreed at the APEC Leaders’ meeting in November 2011, but is secret and remains so until adopted by parties.

Public Health campaigner fears about TPPA

Risk of price hikes to drugs & treatments

• Leaked TPPA intellectual property chapter from 2011 indicates pharmaceutical companies seeking extension of drug patent life beyond 20 years.

• Also introducing ‘evergreening’ that allows fresh patents for new form or use of existing drug.

• Plus a US proposal to patent diagnostic and treatment methods along with new surgical procedure that could see hospitals have to pay licensing fees.

• Leaked draft text around TPPA transparency proposals indicates US trying to impose restrictions on operations of bulk drug purchasing agencies like Pharmac. Risk of legal challenges to public health policy on tobacco etc.

• Concerns at inclusion of ISDS (investor state dispute settlement) provisions, which allow private companies to challenge foreign government policy – e.g. plain packaging of tobacco – under international law.

Source: Dr Deborah Gleeson, public health academic from La Trobe University, recently brought to New Zealand by NZNO, the Public Health Association, Smokefree Aotearoa, NZCTU, and Maritime Unions

Government on TPPA

• The Government says New Zealand’s future depends on its economic relationships with Asia Pacific countries, with half of international trade and more than 70 per cent of New Zealand’s trade and investment flowing through the region.

• Establishing a free trade agreement (FTA) with the United States’ 300 million consumers has been one of New Zealand’s top trade policy goals for many years.

• The Government believes a FTA with the US would benefit all exporters (currently exports to the US are concentrated in agriculture/food sectors) and also potentially lead to an increase in US tourism and investment in New Zealand.

• Trade Minister Tim Groser has been quoted in the news media saying New Zealand’s public health system – including Pharmac – “is not up for negotiation or part of any trade negotiation”.

Source: MFAT website and media reports

Chance for nurses’ voice at upcoming Auckland TPPA talks

• Nursing and other health professional groups are able to have their voice heard during the TPPA fifteenth round of talks being held in Auckland in December.

• Several hundred negotiators are expected attend the nine days of negotiations from 3-12 December.

• A stakeholder day is to be held on Friday 7 December, which will include opportunities to make short presentations to negotiators, a briefing with the TPP chief negotiators, and a possible reception for stakeholders and negotiators.

• For more information about registering as a stakeholder, check out the ‘TPP Talk’ page at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade website, where you can also find external links to stakeholders for and against the TPPA.