News from the Singapore Round

The 16th and latest round of the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations took place in Singapore between March 4th and 13th. Singapore held its stakeholder day on March 6th, 2013. Between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., four rooms were set aside for simultaneous stakeholder presentations. This made it difficult for negotiators to attend each presentation that might be of interest to them. On the other hand, this round appeared better coordinated and organizers were noticeably more welcoming and accommodating towards civil society than they had been during prior rounds. This is particularly true when compared with the chilly reception that public interest groups received most recently in Auckland. In Singapore, civil society stakeholders were welcomed to the venue and had access to negotiators during their breaks.

Stakeholder Presentations:
More than 300 stakeholders took part in the event and more than 50 presentations were made. Oxfam presented the results of a study conducted in Vietnam on access to medicines. Knowledge Ecology International examined criminal enforcement, while Third World Network offered their insights into agricultural issues. Derechos Digitales discussed copyright in the context of economic development. The Malaysian AIDS Council highlighted the issue of intellectual property and the right to health. Breast Cancer Welfare Association Malaysia also attended with a presentation entitled “Medicines-Malaysians, hooded and in the noose”.  

On the industry side, Walt Disney presented their TPPA priorities, which included copyright term extensions and technological protection measures (TPMs). The Motion Picture Association-International presented on the “Promotion and protection of screen communities”, while Warner Brothers discussed “legitimate digital offerings in the Asia Pacific”. CropLife America delivered a presentation they called “Intellectual Property Brings Food to Your Table”.  Finally, BIO was there to offer their views on IP, “innovation” and public health. Although Public Citizen did not present at the stakeholder day, we did table at the event. Both Global Access to Medicines and the Global Trade Watch programs were represented.

Stakeholder Briefing:
The stakeholder briefing took place the evening of March 6th. With Canada and Mexico having been recently added to the table, there were more than 600 negotiators in Singapore. Despite this, the briefing failed to offer any greater insight than stakeholder briefings from previous rounds. Stakeholders posed many pertinent questions to negotiators, but received only vague, broad-sweeping answers. However, Singapore’s chief negotiator did indicate that 2013 would be a pivotal year for the TPP, as they hope to conclude discussions this year. They are aiming to resolve the more technical issues at the negotiator level and leave other controversial, more meaningful engagements for political level discussion.  

Fifa Rahman from the Malaysian AIDS Council was one of the stakeholders to put forth a question to the US Chief Negotiator Barbara Weisel.  In Auckland, Rahman had asked the US negotiator when USTR would be tabling their new proposal on pharmaceuticals, which, at the time, was under discussion. Rahman asked Weisel for an update on the situation, to which the negotiator indicated that the proposal remained under discussion. A representative from the Malaysian National Breast Cancer Association asked a question regarding data exclusivity periods for biologics. He made sure to highlight the fact that he is very concerned about the barriers posed by already expensive cancer drugs in his country. He explained that he was aware of the biotech industry’s efforts to push for 12 years of exclusivity and was wondering whether the USTR would be tabling their proposal soon. Once again, Weisel indicated that a decision had not yet been made, but said that USTR wanted to establish “balance” between access and innovation. She explained that US law provides for 12 years, but that they had received feedback on this issue from other negotiating countries and are currently considering that feedback.

In response to these and other questions relating to pharmaceuticals, Barbara described USTR as being in a period of “reflection”. Rohit Malpani, of Oxfam, intervened detailing his concern that a real balance might, in all likelihood, not be achieved, considering that the administration continued to vacillate on its position. He worried whether, given the lack of a proper timeline, countries would have enough time to consider a new text. Malpani put forth this question to negotiators from other TPP countries, asking whether they themselves were concerned about having enough time to reflect on and analyze any upcoming text. The only negotiator to respond was one from Singapore who said only that they would look at all proposals comprehensively and carefully. Finally, the Malaysian Organization of Pharmaceutical Industries reminded negotiators of the essential need for generic drugs, pleading with all countries present to exhibit respect for flexibilities in international law.

Once again, this question period failed to offer any real answers for stakeholders. The issue of a new US patent & pharmaceutical proposal was last discussed in March 2012 at the Melbourne round. Although a year has gone by since then, nothing more concrete has materialized. A variety of explanations as to why this is have been put forward. Some are speculating that a proposal is pending in the White House, whereas others believe that USTR had been waiting on the new administration to table a proposal. USTR asserts that civil society stakeholders will be made aware of a proposal as soon as it has been issued, at which point they will be given the opportunity to provide feedback. However, while the proposal remains under discussion, only industry will have a chance to offer an opinion. Although we are not under the illusion that USTR will take access to medicines concerns sufficiently seriously, we look forward to offering our views nonetheless.

News from the IP table:
In Singapore, IP negotiators focused mainly on enforcement issues. They began with a discussion on civil and criminal enforcement measures, in which, according to sources, negotiators reached consensus on certain parts of the text. However, controversial “political issues” still remain, which will likely be left for political level discussions.

Also during this round, countries were given the chance to introduce their patent and pharmaceutical systems to one another. To this end, a half-day session on patents and pharmaceuticals was organized. The purpose of this event was to allow countries to hear from newly admitted countries, namely Mexico and Canada, about their systems. However, other countries also presented. Up until this round, Canada, Mexico and Singapore were the only countries that had not indicated their opposition to the US proposal on pharmaceuticals, known as the TEAM paper. It has been speculated that they finally stated their positions in Singapore. All ten other countries now stand opposed to the US proposal on patents and pharmaceuticals.

Lunch for IP and Investment Negotiators:
On March 10th, Public Citizen and Third World Network organized a joint lunch for intellectual property and investment negotiators. The attendance at the lunch was very high, with 55 negotiators representing IP, investment, legal, and health issues showing up to the event. Every delegation was represented by between five and six negotiators. Presenting at this event were Lori Wallach of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, Burcu Kilic of Public Citizen’s Global Access to Medicines Program and Sanya Reid Smith from Third World Network. Wallach summarized the claims raised in the recent NAFTA investor-state case filed by Eli Lilly against Canada alleging that the invalidation of a patent is an expropriation of investor rights.  Dr. Kilic presented on the utility requirements in Canadian patent law, provided background to the Eli Lilly case in Canada and explained the arguments that Eli Lilly raised in their notice of intent. Smith discussed possible implications of other TPP investment chapter provisions for intellectual property. The lunch received a great deal of positive feedback from intellectual property negotiators regarding the usefulness of the afternoon’s presentations.

Coming Up:
The next round of TPP negotiations will take place in Lima, Peru from May 15-24. Issues on the agenda for the 17th round include copyright provisions and patentability. In particular,  Articles 8.1-8.12 of the proposed text will be considered. Discussions regarding criminal and civil enforcement began during the Singapore round.  

Back to the Singapore Round Page

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