Final text of TPP fails to allay critics of drug agreement

Thousands of pages of the final text of the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal were released by the White House on Nov. 5 in hopes of persuading critics to come out in favor of it. But those hopes were dashed when critics from all walks of the economy in the U.S. and elsewhere criticized the provisions.

The critics ranged from Ford ($F) to environmental groups to U.S. nurses and Malaysian officials concerned about potential cost increases on lifesaving drugs that will affect patients who could suffer when lower-cost generics take years longer to come on to the market.

In the U.S., the 185,000-member National Nurses United union said in a statement that the TPP "is even worse than prior reports had predicted" and said monopoly pricing protections for pharmaceutical companies "could be a death sentence for countless patients in need of affordable medications around the world."

The nurses' union said "an analysis of the final text shows those rules littered with loopholes, allowing the U.S. to pressure TPP signers to expand the monopoly control--and their inflated prices--for eight years or longer. … Patent exclusivity rules, that affect when cheaper, generic versions of high priced name brand drugs, can go on the market, can produce long delays in access to affordable medicines, under the TPP," the union said in its statement.

"These gifts to the billionaire drug companies are a cruel and disgraceful threat to the lives of millions of people," said RoseAnn DeMoro, NNU executive director and a vice president of the AFL-CIO. "The pretext of giving the pharmaceutical corporations expanded monopoly control to 'repay' them for research and development costs is particularly hollow considering that a substantial percentage of those costs are paid for with public funds with drugs developed at public universities."

The global medical NGO Doctors Without Borders said in a statement on its website that the TPP deal could make "life-saving treatments unaffordable to millions" and that "damaging intellectual property rules … would give pharmaceutical companies longer monopolies over brand name drugs."

"The TPP is a bad deal for medicine: it's bad for humanitarian medical treatment providers, … and it's bad for people who need access to affordable medicines around the world, including in the United States," said Judit Rius Sanjuan, the U.S. manager for legal policy and adviser for the NGO's Access Campaign.

"At a time when the high price of life-saving medicines and vaccines is increasingly recognized as a barrier to effective medical care, it is very concerning to see that the U.S. government and pharmaceutical companies have succeeded in locking in rules that will keep medicine prices high for longer and limit the tools that governments and civil society have to try to increase generic competition," the NGO said in its statement. 

In Malaysia, the country's AIDS Council said the TPP "will put generic medicines out of the hands of patients all over Malaysia and decimate the public health budget," according to a report by the Malay Mail Online news site.

"With the implementation of the TPP, generic versions of these life-saving medications will not be available for additional … years following registration. These means the government of Malaysia and Malaysians will have to pay the full price of branded medications at very, very high prices," the council said in the report.

In India, which is not a signatory to the TPP, the effects of the pact on the country's $15 billion drug industry are still being researched, according to a report on the DNA website.

"In a country like India, where most people pay for their own medical treatment, and where insurance companies do not pay for medicines, questions are being asked about what will happen if essential drugs become a lot more expensive as the result of a trade deal; and if the gains from expanded market access are worth the cost of (India) joining the TPP," the report said.

In Vietnam, former deputy minister of health Le Van Truyen said people generally favor foreign drugs and that the "arrival of major global pharmaceutical companies in Vietnam will create problems for local enterprises, with some likely to be forced out of the market," according to a report by Vietnam Net.

The 12 nations in the TPP deal include Australia, the United States, Japan, Malaysia, Vietnam, Mexico, Peru, Chile, Singapore, Brunei, Canada and New Zealand. Together these countries account for about 40% of world trade.

With the details now released, the hard part begins for the 12 governments involved in the pact. They must win approval from their respective national legislatures and parliaments for the deal.

- here's the release from National Nurses United and the release from Doctors Without Borders
- here's the full text of TPP
- here's the annex on intellectual property
- here's a story from Bloomberg, one from the Malay Mail, one from DNA and one from Vietnam Net