How the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement Undermines Access to Medicines, Effective Medicines Regulation and Local Production |

How the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement Undermines Access to Medicines, Effective Medicines Regulation and Local Production


In 2009, the United States launched a new trade negotiation – the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement – with a range of countries across Asia and Latin America. The focus on Asia in particular is no surprise – the Obama Administration has made it clear that it’s foreign policy is based on a ‘strategic pivot’ to Asia. The TPPA – which includes Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam, is expected to eventually expand to include most countries within APEC. One key benefit, especially for countries such as Vietnam, is to develop closer ties with the United States as a counter-balance to the increased influence of China in the region; for the United States, it enables them to put pressure on China to adopt domestic regulations that would benefit US businesses, but which may interfere with China’s preferred approach to economic development.

Like many previous US led free trade agreements, the US has chosen to use the TPPA to obtain commercial benefits that cannot be obtained through other means. Of particular controversy are rules that the US has proposed related to intellectual property for pharmaceuticals. Although a global standard for intellectual property protection was established under the TRIPS Agreement (Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights), the US, at the behest of its own pharmaceutical industry, has pushed its trading partners to adopt stricter levels of monopoly protection. The TPPA represents the most significant and ambitious set of demands by the US Government, in part because both industry and the US Government view many of the negotiating partners as lucrative emerging markets to compensate for declining revenue in the US and EU.

Intellectual property rules, while intended to provide a means to compensate inventors for their research and development, have grown over time into a favored form of rent seeking for numerous companies across industries. The drug industry now uses intellectual property protection to extend patent monopolies and to obtain patents and other forms of IP protection not connected to innovation. In doing so, this interferes directly with the obligation of all countries, and especially low and middle income countries, to ensure access to health care, including medicines. IP rules delay generic competition, the one proven method to reduce medicine prices in a sustainable manner. Over the last two decades, evidence illustrates the impacts of strict IP rules (including those in US free trade agreements) upon medicine prices, and conversely, the benefits of generic competition to improve access to health care and medicines. At the same time, strict intellectual property rules present other challenges to emerging economies – they interfere with efforts to improve medicine regulation and they undermine local production, often viewed as a first step towards local R&D.

The likely impacts of the TPPA will be examined by looking at how the TPPA would affect Vietnam, a low-income country that already has very high medicine prices, insufficient drug regulation and an immature pharmaceutical industry.

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Mr. Rohit Malpani, Special Advisor, Oxfam, Hong Kong

Monday, 04 March 2013
12:15 p.m. - 1:30 p.m.

Seminar Room 3-4,
Level 3, Manasseh Meyer,
Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy,
469C Bukit Timah Road,
Singapore 259772

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