The deal brokered today by the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) and the Australian government on biotech drugs, which supposedly paved the way for an overall “deal in principle” for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), fell short of Big Pharma’s most extreme demands but will contribute to preventable suffering and death. The final deal as reported does not seem to adhere to the “May 10th 2007 Agreement” standard on access to affordable medicines and could complicate any eventual final TPP deal’s prospects in the U.S. Congress. In biologics and other areas, TPP rules would expand monopoly protections for the pharmaceutical industry at the expense of people’s access to affordable medicines. (The May 10th Agreement was brokered in 2007 between Democratic congressional leadership and the Bush administration to begin to reduce the negative consequences of U.S.-negotiated trade agreements, for health, the environment and labor.)
In recent days, monopoly periods for biologics, which are medical products derived from living organisms and include many new and forthcoming cancer treatments, became the most controversial issue in the attempt to conclude a TPP. The highly technical and confusing biologics deal appears to not guarantee Big Pharma the minimum eight-year automatic monopolies that industry has taken for granted as an eventual TPP outcome. According to informed sources, countries could limit automatic biologics exclusivity to not more than five years, at which point affordable biosimilars could enter the market. (Biologics exclusivity is separate from and independent of patent protection, though the protections may overlap.) Yet the deal also includes mechanisms that would help the USTR browbeat countries, now and in the future, to get what Big Pharma wants, and pull countries toward longer monopoly periods.
This week, U.S. Rep. Sander Levin made clear that May 10 agreement limits exclusivity to five years, with a “concurrent period” mechanism to ensure faster access that is not present in the TPP biologics deal. Several other TPP rules, including those relating to patent term extensions, linkage and evergreening, go beyond the limits of the May 10th Agreement. In late July, 11 of the 28 Democrats who voted for Fast Track legislation warned in a letter that the TPP could fail in Congress if it did not adhere to the May 10 standard with respect to access to medicines.
With respect to other issues in the TPP’s Intellectual Property Chapter, the transition periods before developing countries must meet all of the TPP’s protections for pharmaceutical corporations and possible exceptions to those rules are not sufficient to protect access to medicines. Transition periods will be very short and apply to only a few of the most harmful rules. Exceptions will be limited to very few rules or countries. Within a few years, most, if not all, harmful TPP rules will apply to all countries.
Controversies over pharmaceuticals and intellectual property, including frequently unanimous resistance from negotiating countries, have held up the TPP for years. Many courageous negotiators and others from developing countries stood up to industry and USTR pressure, consistently, to protect their people’s health. A number of harmful rules were eliminated from TPP proposals as a result of this work.
Yet the Obama administration showed itself willing to risk its entire trade agenda to satisfy the avarice of the pharmaceutical lobby. In that respect, people everywhere trying to understand why medicine prices are so high find a disheartening answer in the TPP negotiations: The pharmaceutical industry has purchased tremendous influence with political leaders.