After 10 years of talks, the 12 countries involved in the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact came to a tentative agreement earlier this month. The New York Times called the TPP the “largest regional trade accord in history,” encompassing environmental, labor, tariff and international property standards, cross-border data flow, and more. It will impact the lives of millions.
And yet, little attention has been given to the agreement in U.S. broadcast and other large media. While critics maintain that the trade negotiations have been the most secretive ever conducted by a U.S. administration, with few exceptions, the media hasn’t taken up the challenge and put the TPP under the spotlight. What little the public knows about the TPP has been disseminated by the “progressive blogosphere,” according to Melinda St. Louis, international campaigns director with the advocacy group, Public Citizen.
Along with the leak of a draft of the TPP by Wikileaks, groups like Public Citizen, Credo, MoveOn and dozens of others “have educated the public in spite of the media,” St. Louis says. One of the problems is that media organizations have seemingly deferred writing about the TPP to the “trade beat” and what we’ve gotten is a “media blackout for years,” she says. That’s been a mistake, says St. Louis. She’s been following the TPP negotiations for Public Citizen for about four and a half years.
“This issue isn’t about trade. We’ve tried to convince the media from the medicine, food and financial beats to look at the issues.”
Among the provisions of the trade pact are those that will affect access to medicines through extending patent protections, including for expensive new biosimilars, in countries where they haven’t been as restrictive as the United States. Within the U.S., patient advocates and the generics industry have said the Obama administration, while teaming up with industry execs to negotiate an agreement out of public view, has favored the interests of the pharmaceutical industry over patient needs. There is no mechanism for taking public input on the agreement.
FiveThirtyEight.com put it this way:
“International trade agreements are legally binding, meaning the countries that sign on must bring their domestic laws in line with the agreed-upon provisions, and they can’t change their laws without also amending the deal. That’s part of what has so many people frustrated with the TPP: It restricts the ability to innovate the patent system itself.”
Another of the TPP’s early and vocal critics is the humanitarian aid group, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières. According to MSF’s Judit Rius Sanjuan, a legal policy advisor:
“Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) expresses its dismay that TPP countries have agreed to United States government and multinational drug company demands that will raise the price of medicines for millions by unnecessarily extending monopolies and further delaying price-lowering generic competition. The big losers in the TPP are patients and treatment providers in developing countries. Although the text has improved over the initial demands, the TPP will still go down in history as the worst trade agreement for access to medicines in developing countries, which will be forced to change their laws to incorporate abusive intellectual property protections for pharmaceutical companies.”
Politico, which obtained a leaked draft of the agreement and reported on it in May, wrote:
“The draft text includes provisions that could make it extremely tough for generics to challenge brand-name pharmaceuticals abroad. Those provisions could also help block copycats from selling cheaper versions of the expensive cutting-edge drugs known as “biologics” inside the U.S., restricting treatment for American patients while jacking up Medicare and Medicaid costs for American taxpayers.
“There’s very little distance between what Pharma wants and what the U.S. is demanding,” said Rohit Malpini, director of policy for Doctors Without Borders.”
The countries involved – Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, United States and Vietnam, together represent about 40% of the global economy — or $28 trillion — so the impact of the trade deal will be felt internationally.
The details of the agreement could finally be made public within weeks, according to St. Louis. The administration is required to release the agreement to the public within 30 days after its presented to Congress for its 90-day review, but it could come sooner. Congress is expected to vote on the agreement in early 2016. When the vote comes, it will be a simple yes or no. Through controversial “Fast Track” legislation, Congress earlier this year narrowly voted to give the TPP a straight up or down vote and no amendments will be allowed.
Recent analysis of the TPP deal and how it may affect healthcare:
FiveThirtyEight.com: The Problem With Tying Health Care To Trade
Politico: What’s in Obama’s trade deal
WikiLeaks: Pharmaceutical Provisions in the TPP
Kat Stone is an associate editor with HealthNewsReview.org.