By Melanie Foley
Recent news reports have described President Donald Trump as “apoplectic” that drug prices continue to rise under his presidency. He has been lashing out at members of his administration for failing to deliver on his key campaign promise to lower medicine costs.
Despite his crocodile tears, the reality is that Trump allowed Big Pharma to rig his revised North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) deal with monopoly rights so drug companies can continue to charge people more money for the medicine they need.
The Global Trade Watch division of Public Citizen has been building a growing coalition of progressive groups to demand critical changes to the revised NAFTA text that Trump signed last year. Because that deal included some of Public Citizen’s demands, including largely eliminating the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) regime, Public Citizen is trying to fix it rather than stop it. A major focus of Public Citizen’s campaign is the elimination of the provisions that would lock in the policies that make U.S. medicine prices unaffordable.
Trump’s deal, which can’t take effect without congressional approval, requires signatory countries to guarantee monopoly powers for big pharmaceutical companies. That means that the giant corporations can avoid generic competition and keep medicine prices high.
Among other dangerous terms, NAFTA 2.0 requires that the three NAFTA governments – Canada, Mexico and the United States – provide ways for drug firms to extend the duration of their monopoly patents. It guarantees drug companies 10 years of extra exclusivity to sell new cutting-edge cancer and other medicines called biologics. This would the changes Congress is discussing to bring down drug prices. It would lock the United States into bad policies that keep lifesaving medicines out of reach for millions of people and export our failed system to Mexico and Canada.
According to the Association for Affordable Medicines, under the NAFTA 2.0 terms, some medicines could get even more expensive, including diabetes treatments Glucagon, Ozempic, Saxenda and Victoza; osteoporosis treatment Forteo; heart failure treatment Natrecor; and short bowel syndrome treatment . These drugs, which could get even more expensive under NAFTA 2.0, already cost Americans an estimated $5.6 billion in 2018.
Public Citizen recently organized a national petition drive to oppose these terms and demand stronger labor and environmental standards and enforcement be added to the revised deal. More than 40 organizations joined the petition drive, including the AFL-CIO, Social Security Works and the Sierra Club.
On June 25, Public Citizen delivered the 300,000 petition signatures to Congress at a “No Vote Until NAFTA 2.0 Is Fixed” press conference and rally. Members of Congress – including U.S. Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), Chuy Garcia (D-Ill.), Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), Andy Levin (D-Mich.), Donald Norcross (D-N.J.) and Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) – joined AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, at the event outside the U.S. Capitol.
The lawmakers were there to demonstrate, as Wallach said, that “a revised NAFTA will get through Congress only if key fixes are made, because the deal that Trump signed last year would not stop job outsourcing and would lock in high medicine prices.”
Reporters from CNN, NBC and Fox News covered the event, and a livestream of it was shared widely by Our Revolution, Democracy for America, NowThis and CREDO.
Two congressional letters that were sent to the Trump administration this summer also emphasized the need for changes to the NAFTA 2.0 deal that Trump signed in 2018.
The , co-authored by “New Dem” Rep. Susan Davis (D-Calif.) and Progressive Caucus member Schakowsky, laid out the changes that should be made to the deal’s pharmaceutical monopoly terms. More than 100 members of Congress signed the letter, including full committee chairs, leadership, freshmen from districts that Trump carried in 2016 and border states, and even lawmakers who in 2015 voted to “Fast Track” the disastrous Trans-Pacific (TPP).
The number and diversity of signers on the letter demonstrate that no matter what differences may exist among U.S. House of Representatives Democrats on trade in general, or the revised NAFTA specifically, the vast majority cannot abide a deal that includes new monopoly protections for pharmaceutical firms that would tie their hands from changing U.S. policies to lower medicine prices.
The second letterthis summer laid out all the changes needed to NAFTA 2.0, including access to affordable medicines. That letter was signed by dozens of freshman Democrats, “from U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) to free-traders,” as Politico put .
But Trump and the corporations that stand to benefit are still pushing for a vote on the deal as-is as soon as possible. Corporate lobbyists have been bragging about spending millions to ram the deal through Congress this fall without the changes that Public Citizen and its progressive allies demand.
The two corporate lobby groups — U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) Coalition and Pass USMCA Coalition — have pledged to spend more than $15 million to get NAFTA 2.0 passed as-is. A recent analysis by Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch revealed that the groups’ 90 identifiable corporate members, including pharmaceutical and oil companies as well as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Business Roundtable, already are responsible for more than 500,000 trade-related job losses.
Despite these corporations’ money and influence, lawmakers indicate that
U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has convened a working group of representatives, including progressive fair-trade champion DeLauro, to negotiate with administration officials on fixing the deal.
As Public Citizen News headed to print, discussions were ongoing. Public Citizen is relentlessly fighting to fix NAFTA 2.0 by pushing lawmakers to withhold support until the Trump administration removes the harmful pharmaceutical monopolies and improves the labor, environmental and enforcement terms to stop the ongoing outsourcing of jobs and pollution.
A deal like that – unlike Trump’s NAFTA 2.0 – to people across North America. And that is worth fighting for.