'Unfortunately, trade agreements have become one more mechanism for drug corporations to expand their monopoly power'
By Deirdre Fulton
As E.U. and U.S. officials meet in New York this week for the 15th round of Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations, a new report warns of how the corporate-friendly, increasingly unpopular deal could "lock in" high drug prices and "help entrench a broken medical innovation system."
Specifically, the analysis explains how expanding intellectual property rules and monopoly protections for medicines, which the TTIP seeks to do, is counterproductive at a time when E.U. member states and the U.S. "are facing a looming access to medicines crisis."
According to the report:
TTIP could impede change towards affordability, needs-driven innovation and alternative incentive structures. TTIP may add to existing monopoly protections for medicines; reinforce the current trend of industry claiming trade secret protection to limit access to crucial information on medicines' safety, efficacy and development; rein in the freedom of national governments to make decisions on pricing and reimbursement to ensure affordability; and establish global standards that are harmful for developing countries.
Indeed, "Given the record level of public outrage and debate over skyrocketing medicine prices in the U.S. and Europe, it is inconceivable that a trade agreement attempts to set into stone even more pro-industry rules," said Sophie Bloemen, co-founder of the E.U.-based Commons Network, which released Monday's report (pdf) along with Health Action International, of the Netherlands, and U.S. watchdog group Public Citizen.
Doctors Without Borders/Médecins sans Frontières has similarly warned that the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP)—also stalled largely due to public opposition—contains "aggressive intellectual property (IP) rules that would restrict access to affordable, lifesaving medicines for millions of people."
What's more, the groups express concern that the TTIP would create more opportunities "for industry to influence national pharmaceutical policies." As the report reads:
The recently leaked text has confirmed widely held concerns that the Regulatory Cooperation chapter poses a major threat to health, safety, environmental, labor, consumer, civil and political rights, and other regulatory protections. The U.S. proposals in the Regulatory Cooperation chapter seek to export many of the worst features of U.S. rulemaking. If the United States succeeds in its project, large corporations, including pharmaceutical companies, would gain enormous power to block, slow, undermine, and repeal European regulations.
"Big Pharma expects negotiators to serve its corporate profit interests in these talks," said Peter Maybarduk, director of Public Citizen's Access to Medicines program. "Unfortunately, trade agreements have become one more mechanism for drug corporations to expand their monopoly power."
"We call upon all negotiators in New York," said Tessel Mellema, policy advisor at Health Action International, "not to lock Americans and Europeans into pharmaceutical innovation system that has been failing patients, and price gouging governments, for decades."
- Originally appeared at CommonDreams.org