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Leaked New Zealand Paper Challenges Major Pharmaceutical Companies in Trans-Pacific Trade Negotiations

Dec. 4, 2010

Leaked New Zealand Paper Challenges Major Pharmaceutical Companies in Trans-Pacific Trade Negotiations

Access to Medicines at Stake

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A confidential Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) negotiating paper authored by New Zealand suggests that the trade pact’s patent and copyright provisions be no more stringent than existing global standards. Warning that the New Zealand position still poses some risks for access to medicines, Public Citizen applauds this direct challenge to the monopoly interests of major pharmaceutical corporations.

Meanwhile, the U.S.-based pharmaceutical industry on Friday requested that the U.S. government push for “the highest possible” regional intellectual property protections and changes to the policies of New Zealand’s Pharmaceutical Management Agency (PHARMAC) through the TPPA. If the drug industry prevails, access to medicines could be at risk.

Pharma-favored provisions included in many recent U.S. trade deals extend drug company monopolies and keep prices high. But price-lowering generic competition is essential to advancing global access to medicines. For example, over the past 10 years, generic competition has played a key role in reducing the costs of first-line HIV/AIDS medicines by 99 percent, enabling 5.2 million people worldwide to access lifesaving treatment.

The leaked New Zealand paper states the parties “should be cautious about moving beyond TRIPS [Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights] standards under [the] TPP,” noting “there is a tendency towards overprotection of IP in all our societies, particularly in the areas of copyright and patents.” New Zealand proposes an alternative “TRIPS-aligned” structure, focusing on operational coherence and enforcement, and capacity building in developing countries. There are still dangers in each of New Zealand’s proposed focus areas; even these seeming procedural approaches may increase monopoly protections. New Zealand’s position could incorporate terms of the controversial Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA). 

But the leaked paper reflects growing awareness of the risks of TRIPS-plus measures and rigid exclusive rights in many countries, making explicit reference to controversies within New Zealand over the content and secrecy of these negotiations.

“The best result for many parties to the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement would be no intellectual property or pharmaceuticals provisions at all,” said Peter Maybarduk, director of the Global Access to Medicines Program at Public Citizen. “Nevertheless, New Zealand’s proposal is a better starting point for regional IP negotiation than the U.S.-sponsored TRIPS-plus status quo.”
 “The parties to the TPPA have touted the agreement as a new model and a high-standard 21st century agreement,” he added. “A 21st century agreement must not accept harmful 20th century terms. We congratulate New Zealand for introducing an alternative vision. Any future proposals for intellectual property provisions in the TPPA should improve upon New Zealand’s proposal and limit the intellectual property protections required by various trade agreements in the region to levels no higher than those set by the World Trade Organization’s TRIPS Agreement.”

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