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TPP 'most harmful trade deal ever for access to medicines,' says Médecins Sans Frontières

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The humanitarian organization Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is calling on the U.S. government to revise its intellectual property demands in the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal or watch it become "the most harmful trade deal ever for access to medicines in developing countries." TPP negotiations continue this week in Singapore, with Canada participating in the talks for the second time.

Intellectual property rights will be discussed on seven of the eight days' worth of negotiations, showing its importance in the overall TPP agreement. But MSF warns the U.S. pharmaceutical IPR proposals, which are being resisted by most of the 10 non-U.S. TPP negotiating countries, "threaten to roll back internationally-agreed public health safeguards and would put in place far-reaching monopoly protections that keep medicine prices high and out of the reach of millions in the Asia-Pacific region."

"Too many people already die needlessly because the medicines they need are too expensive or do not exist, and we cannot stand by as the Trans-Pacific Partnership threatens to further restrict access to medicines in developing countries," said Dr. Unni Karunakara, International President of MSF, in a media release this week.

"We are gravely concerned about countries like Thailand, where MSF started treating HIV/AIDS more than a decade ago and then transitioned its programs to local authorities with the confidence that they would be able to continue providing lifesaving treatments. Now Thailand is on the cusp of joining a dangerous deal that could jeopardize its ability to maintain, let alone scale up, vital, life-saving health programs for its people."

The other risk, says MSF, is that the TPP will create a precedent for future international trade agreements, granting the mostly U.S.- and EU-based pharmaceutical industry "a wide-ranging set of legal mechanisms designed to prolong monopoly protection for medicines and delay the availability of more affordable generic versions." The organization says the U.S. intellectual property proposals in the TPP would:

- Force governments to grant new 20-year patents for modifications to existing medicines, including new forms, new uses of an older drug, or new therapeutic methods;

- Make it more expensive or cumbersome to challenge undeserved or invalid patents;

- Add years to existing patents to compensate for administrative delays in bringing drugs to market;

"Meanwhile," says this week's MSF press release, "provisions in the proposed investment chapter would give pharmaceutical companies the right to sue governments for instituting any regulation that reduces their expected profits, using private tribunals that circumvent a country's judicial process. U.S. pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly is using similar provisions in NAFTA to demand $100 million from the Canadian government for invalidating one of its patents, claiming, among other things, that the company's expected profits were 'expropriated' when the patent was overturned."

Many but not all of these demands of TPP countries are the same as the EU's demands of Canada in the ongoing Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement. In fact, intellectual property rights for pharmaceutical products is one of the major sticking points in the CETA negotiations because the EU proposals are guaranteed to increase the cost of public and private drug plans in Canada, and make the introduction of any national or provincial pharmacare plan much more difficult.

To read the MSF report Trading Away Health: The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), click here.

To demand the Harper government take intellectual property off the table in the CETA negotiations, use the Canadian Health Coalition action alert here.

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