Once again, US trade talks and the behind-the-scenes role being played by the pharmaceutical industry are making headlines. This time, the ruckus is taking place in New Zealand, where there are mounting concerns about the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement, or TPP, which is a trade agreement that aims to integrate eight economies of the Asia-Pacific region.
Among the issues is the extent to which the TTP would move beyond intellectual property standards in the World Trade Organization’s Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property, or TRIPS agreement (back story). The US Trade Representative, with backing from 28 US Senators and pharma, is also reportedly taking a hard line on Pharmac, the government entity that manages access to medicines in New Zealand, and reimbursement practices.
An important TTP meeting will be held in November. And last month, the senators wrote a letter to US President Barack Obama wrote that "put bluntly, intellectual property equals jobs." Although as Radio New Zealand notes, these same senators have received $6.5 million in donations from the pharmaceutical industry over the past five years.
In their letter, the senators do not mention Pharmac or New Zealand, specifically, but address the talks more generally and write that "a TTP with strong protections for intellectual property promises to be an important means of ensuring that US companies can continue to innovate and grow in this global economy..." (read the letter here).
However, Radio New Zealand reports that pressure is being placed on Pharmac to change its procedures for negotiations with drugmakers. In talking to the radio service, Sean Flynn, associate director of the Program on Information Justice and Intellectual Property at the Washington College of Law, says the demands will, ultimately, lead to higher prices and, therefore, reduce access (you can listen to his remarks here).
Last week, Flynn published what he described as a leaked copy of the US negoitating position and he writes that the "TPP chapter may be best seen as a significant step toward the pharmaceutical industry’s ultimate goal, which is a binding international agreement on drug pricing that would restrain the ability of governments to use collective purchasing power to demand prices below 'market levels." You can read more here.
"While it may sound esoteric to the ears of most New Zealanders, the intellectual property debate is of high importance in the US right now, as it wrestles with how to steer its economy away from the precipice, and meet President Obama's goal of doubling exports within five years. America's IP-based industries are more important now than ever," Radio New Zealand concludes. "The settlement of that debate will have a large bearing on what New Zealand pays in the future for drugs, along with a whole lot else."
New Zealanders, however, are not the only ones objecting to the direction the TPP talks appear to be taking. Earlier this month, Vermont Govenor Peter Shumlin also wrote Obama to complain that recent efforts by the US Trade Rep to could threaten healthcare programs - such as Medicare and Medicaid - that serve vulnerable populations in the US (look here).