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'Free trade' deals a threat to public health care

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Various so-called 'free trade' agreements are taking aim at the advancement of health care for all.

Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA)

This is an almost-finalized agreement between Canada and the European Union that will face ratification votes in the latter half of this year or early in 2016.

As we've highlighted, this deal would lengthen the patent protection for pharmaceutical corporations that could cost Canadians between $850 million to $1.65 billion annually. Furthermore, under the investor-state provisions of CETA, companies could sue governments for laws that impact on their future profits. As such, CETA could undermine the implementation of a national pharmacare program. Already, U.S. pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly has sued Canada for $500 million using the NAFTA Chapter 11 investor-state provision after two courts invalidated their patents.

For a fuller analysis on the impacts of CETA and public health care in Canada, please see Council of Canadians health care campaigner Michael Butler's commentary in this blog, In the name of 'free trade' our public health care system is forced to swallow another poison pill.

Trade in Services Agreement (TISA)

This agreement is being negotiated on the sidelines of the World Trade Organization by a group of 23 governments representing 50 countries, including Canada, the United States, the European Union, Australia, Mexico and South Korea.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports, "According to a leaked document, [TISA] negotiations ... will include discussion of wide-ranging reforms to national public health systems to promote 'offshoring' of health-care services. ...The leaked 'concept paper on health care services within TISA negotiations' ... argues there is 'huge untapped potential for the globalisation of healthcare services', creating massive business opportunities from what is a $US6 trillion per year industry. The proposed regime would involve health professionals authorising patients to be treated in other TISA countries (for reasons including long waiting times in the home country or inadequate expertise for specific medical problems); and the patient's costs being reimbursed through their home country's social security system, private insurance coverage or other healthcare arrangements."

Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)

This free trade zone of 12 countries including Canada, the United States and Japan, would encompass about 40 per cent of the world's economy. It is believed that the negotiations for this deal could be concluded as early as next month.

Common Dreams reports, "Doctors Without Borders and Health Global Access Project [have] warned that the TPP will undermine efforts to ensure access to affordable, life-saving medicines in both the United States and abroad. ...According to Health GAP, leaked drafts of the TPP revealed that the U.S. is seeking stronger, longer, and more accessible patent monopolies on medicines and new monopolies on drug regulatory data that would prevent marketing of more affordable generic equivalents. The TPP will reportedly also place some of the 'most severe intellectual property rules ever demanded in international trade', including strict price control measures and enhanced investor rights that would permit Big Pharma to sue governments when they expect profits will be undermined by government policy."

Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP)

The United States and the European Union have just completed their eighth round of talks for this agreement.

The Lancet reports, "Serious concerns about the health effects [of TTIP] have been highlighted in medical journals and by civil society. The concerns include unprecedented expansion of intellectual property rights that would prolong monopolies on pharmaceuticals and reduce access to affordable and lifesaving generic medicines. Effective price regulation of medicines could also be undermined. Rising medicine costs would disproportionately affect already vulnerable populations, obstructing efforts to improve health equity within and between countries." In terms of health promotion, this article notes, "In New Zealand, the fear of costly [investor-state] litigation is already constraining government regulation on tobacco plain packaging."

The Council of Canadians is working to protect and expand public health care in Canada. We oppose the extension of pharmaceutical corporate monopolies on life-saving drugs, delays in the introduction of more affordable generic equivalents, the investor-state dispute settlement provision and how it is used against the public interest, measures that limit price regulations, trade disciplines that prohibit health promotion initiatives, and the offshoring of for-profit health care services.

For more on our health-care campaign, please click here.

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