Health Advocates File Petition With U.N. Over Proposed Trade Agreement Among Several Countries

Several health advocacy groups have submitted a letter [.pdf] to U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health Anand Grover “outlining their objections” to negotiations over a trans-Pacific partnership (TPP) agreement being negotiated by the governments of Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, United States and Vietnam, claiming that the agreement would inhibit access to low-cost medications in developing countries, BMJ News reports. 

Advocates argue that the language in a proposal written by the U.S. “call[s] for the adoption of intellectual property norms that are more stringent than those required by the World Trade Organization’s agreement on trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights (TRIPS)” and would prevent people in developing countries from accessing generic medications, according to the publication.

As outlined in the letter, “[t]he complainants allege that the proposal by the U.S. makes no mention of the Doha declaration (2001) on the TRIPS agreement and public health – which allowed circumvention of patent rules in some circumstances to improve access to drugs in poor countries – and proposes that patents shall be available for any new forms, uses, or methods of using a known product,” BMJ News writes. The advocates claim the trade agreement also could impact rights to data from clinical trials as well.

Carol Guthrie, a spokesperson for the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, said the goal of the negotiations “is to achieve a high standard of IP [intellectual property] protection and enforcement in the Asia-Pacific region.”

“Sources told the BMJ that [Grover] has accepted the urgent appeal and will ‘initiate proceedings’ over the alleged violations with the countries participating in the TPP agreement,” according to the publication. “The deliberations, initially confidential, will become public when the rapporteur submits his annual report to the 47 member country Human Rights Council, probably in the next few weeks.”

The health groups’ petition follows similar action taken by agencies and patient groups in India and Asia last month when they took to the streets “urg[ing] the Indian government to reject a free trade agreement it is negotiating with the European Union that they said may undermine India’s capacity to produce generic drugs” (Zarocostas, 3/29).

In those talks, “slow progress on key issues like access to India’s legal and financial service sectors and the protection of intellectual property” has kept Indian and European trade ministers from finalizing a free trade agreement, the Telegraph reports.

Optimism that the countries were nearing an agreement “has faded as negotiators have focused on the ‘grittier issues,'” such as “data protection for European pharmaceutical firms and the right of Indian rivals to sell generic medicines in third [world] countries, the degree of access to Indian markets for EU financial service companies, and the free movement of professionals,” according to the newspaper.

Negotiators are scheduled to meet again in May, the Telegraph reports (Nelson, 3/26).

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