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Corporate-Rigged Trade Deals: Restricting Access to Affordable Medicines

Big Pharma uses free trade agreements like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the now-defunct Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) to expand their monopoly power and restrict access to medicines. The TPP — which was defeated by thousands of diverse organizations representing working people united across borders — would have provided large pharmaceutical firms new rights and powers to increase medicine prices and limit consumers' access to cheaper generic drugs. The rejected text includes extensions of monopoly drug patents that would have allowed drug companies to raise prices for more medicines and even allow monopoly rights over surgical procedures. For people in developing countries involved in the TPP, these rules would have been deadly – denying consumers access to HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and cancer drugs.

An analysis of the final TPP text shows taxpayer-funded public health programs would have been exposed to pharmaceutical company attacks and constrained future policy reforms to reduce prescription drug costs for Americans. The text explicitly binds Medicare to TPP rules that would limit proposed policy changes to tamp down healthcare costs for seniors.

TPP would have further empowered foreign pharmaceutical corporations to directly attack our domestic patent and drug-pricing laws in foreign tribunals. Already under NAFTA, drug firm Eli Lilly has launched such a case against Canada, demanding $500 million for the government's enforcement of its own patent standards.

The TPP would have also empowered multinational corporations to directly challenge domestic toxics, zoning, cigarette and alcohol and other public health and environmental policies, and to demand taxpayer compensation for “expected future profits” they claim were inhibited by such policies. Often initiatives to improve laws are chilled by the mere filing of such an “investor-state” case. In other instances, countries eliminate the attacked policies. For instance, Canada lifted a ban on a gasoline additive banned in the U.S. as a known human neurotoxin after an investor-state attack by Ethyl Corporation under NAFTA. Canada also paid the firm $13 million and published a formal statement that the chemical was not hazardous.

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