Several leading Congressional Democrats have written a letter to the US Trade Representative urging him to ensure that access to generic medicines is not undermined during the upcoming round of negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement. The talks are being held with eight countries in Asia and Latin America, including Australia, Peru, Chile, New Zealand and Malaysia.
The House Democrats want US Trade Rep Ron Kirk to adopt policies that limit exclusive marketing rights for a brand-name drug based, which would be based on clinical trial data, to one five-year period. And they suggest this should run concurrently with similar legal protection in the US. The pharmaceutical industry, however, has been pushing for lengthier exclusivity.
Drugmakers say strong patent protections are needed to protect investments made to develop medicines. And the White House has made trade deals a key element of its plans to foster job growth. But patient advocates argue that ongoing trade talks threaten to rollback progress of the past few years. The House Democrats point, for instance, to a 2007 trade deal with Peru, Colombia and Panama.
"A core objective" of that deal "was to ensure that Free Trade Agreement obligations do not put patients in poor countries in a position in which they could have to wait longer than patients in the United States to obtain affordable life saving generic medicines," write the House Democrats in their letter to Kirk.
They also maintain that rolling back such provisions would cost US taxpayers because the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR, pays for treatment for many people with HIV and AIDS. In Vietnam, for instance, the program covers most of the nearly 38,000 infected patients who are receiving drugs (here is the letter).
"There would be significant concern if action through the (Trans Pacific Partnership) could delay access to generic medicines which may result in higher costs to the US government to reach PEPFAR treatment goals or could result in removing patients from treatment," wrote Henry Waxman of the Energy and Commerce committee; Sander Levin of the Ways and Means committee; John Conyers of the Judiciary committee, and Jim McDermott of the Ways and Means Trade subcommittee.
Separately, more than 20 groups - including Public Citizen, Sierra Club and the AFL-CIO - wrote a letter to Kirk asking that he release Trans Pacific Partnership negotiating documents after learning that a confidentiality agreement was signed by the negotiating parties. The closed-door approach, the groups argue, contradicts a vow by the Obama administration toward greater transparency.
“While executives from hundreds of corporations have been named ‘official trade advisors’ by the Obama administration and given access to the texts, the people whose lives would be most affected may never get to see what our negotiators are bargaining for – and bargaining away – until it’s all over,” says Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch, in a statement (here is the letter).