Via The Globe and Mail, an op-ed by Heather Culbert, president of MSF Canada: Why the TPP trade deal is a threat to public health. Excerpt (Canadians better read the whole article):
Since 2010, Canada has been in negotiations with the United States and 10 other Pacific Rim countries to finalize the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, a massive trade deal with potentially far-reaching implications.
Although the contents of the TPP have not been made public, leaked documents suggest the deal will significantly increase the scope and duration of patent and other monopoly protections for medicines. These changes go well beyond the minimum requirements set by the World Trade Organization and create a new high-water mark for intellectual property rights – and another barrier to accessing affordable medicines for the world’s poor.
Do the intellectual property protections of patent-holders take precedence over the public-health needs of societies? As a physician, I am firmly rooted on the side of the patient. Canadian and U.S. governments have also shown themselves willing to overrule patent-holder rights when faced with serious public health threats, such as the anthrax scare in 2002 or the “swine flu” pandemic in 2009-2010. During the latter case, Ottawa was clear that protecting the health of Canadians was its primary responsibility.
In the developing countries where MSF does most of its work, the public health needs are often huge. Even some countries participating in the TPP negotiations, such as Peru and Vietnam, are places where many people still cannot afford the medicines they need.
Under the TPP, not only would pharmaceutical patents be expanded and extended, but international trade disputes would be addressed by third-party tribunals that lack either transparency or an appeals mechanism. Many countries will feel they have no choice but to comply, even though most of their citizens will have no hope of accessing potentially life-saving medications.
But it is not just people in low-income countries who will be affected by the TPP. Canadians will also face extended patent provisions and increased costs for medications. Pharmaceutical companies don’t hesitate to protect their commercial interests, as demonstrated by a $500-million lawsuit by Eli Lilly against the Canadian government (and taxpayers) for the rejection of two drug patents and for allowing competitors to enter the market. The TPP would put even more of this type of leverage in the hands of pharmaceutical companies against the rights of governments.
The time to address these issues is now. On June 23, the U.S. Congress voted to authorize the government to fast-track the TPP negotiations. Trade ministers from all countries involved are now preparing for meetings at the end of July in Hawaii, and a final deal could be signed by year’s end.
A number of organizations, including MSF, are concerned that without transparency or public consultation, the TPP will create damaging trade-agreement precedents that would further restrict access to life-saving medicines for millions of people.
Fortunately there are signs that some countries, including Canada, have reservations about the provisions on medical patents proposed by the United States and may be willing to push back. It is crucial that our government hears from Canadians concerned about the impact of the TPP.