Medicine prices could increase under TPP

Leaked documents show we'll be paying more for medicines.

5aug medicine hero

New leaked documents from the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) show New Zealanders could soon be paying a lot more for medical care.

The latest draft of the Trans-Pacific Partnership’s Intellectual Property (IP) chapter has been leaked by the website Wikileaks. In the document are a number of clauses that, if signed by the 11 participating countries, will see prices of pharmaceuticals rise as generic medicines are prevented from entering the market for as long as 12 years.

If you need a quick refresher on the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement (TPP or TPPA), read our basic run down.

Expensive medicines

The new document comes from the Ho Chi Minh negotiation round of the TPP in May this year. It shows the US has started pushing to protect pharmaceutical patents. The main clause is Article QQ.E.20, which would give a pharmaceutical product 5-12 years of market exclusivity. This means the cheaper generic drugs Pharmac buys wouldn’t be available for a long time.

Trade minister Tim Groser, who has been part of these secret negotiations, has said Pharmac would not be affected by the TPP. These documents don't back that up. Given the language of the draft text, Pharmac’s budget would be stretched paying for patented medicines.

Medecins San Frontieres has said that: “Adopting the text in its current form will negatively affect affordable access to medicines and the health of millions of people across the Asia-Pacific region.”

Extended copyright

The proposals for this follow a strong US and Japan-led initiative to have copyright on works extended to anywhere from 50 to 100 years after the death of the author. This is despite evidence shorter copyright terms are better for innovation. For example, if extended copyright had been place Sherlock Holmes would not be in the public domain as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle died in 1930, meaning you’d have to wait until 2030.

This is despite all the negotiating TPP countries agreeing on “the importance of a rich and accessible public domain.”

Trade secrets

One of the many draconian changes seen in this new draft criminalises access or disclosure of a trade secret using a computer. While this may look like a simple clause to safeguard companies from “cyber-espionage”, there are no public interest exemptions. This means a journalist who discovers or is sent a “trade secret” (for example, that a certain product may cause cancer) can be prosecuted for breaking the law.

Parallel importing

One tiny victory is parallel importing is no longer directly affected by the TPP. This does not mean it won’t be reintroduced or that we can expect lower prices, especially with the other strong copyright changes the text is making.

The next round

The next negotiation round is next week in Sydney. The round will be followed by a TPP trade ministers meeting on 25-27 October. Australian Minister for Trade and Investment Andrew Robb expects ministers to progress negotiations, and aims to conclude basic elements of the agreement before the end of the year. Outstanding issues such as agricultural market access, intellectual property and the disciplines of state-owned enterprises will be discussed.

Extra reading

  • Wikileaks has the original document. It uses a lot of legalese but if you can work through it is worth it.
  • This blog by EFF covers some of the issues in detail and also looks at liability and enforcement.

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