Trans-Pacific Trade Partners Must Fight Higher Medicine Prices, Harmful Provisions

Jose Cendon


Ottawa/New York—As Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiators convene in Ottawa for another secret round of trade talks, it is time for the US to take harmful provisions that would raise medicine prices for 800 million people across the Pacific Rim region out of the draft trade agreement, said international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). 

MSF warns that higher medicine prices caused by harmful new rules in the TPP trade pact will disproportionally affect the poorest populations across all countries in the pact: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, United States, and Vietnam. The TPP includes countries with wide-ranging levels of economic development, but the deadly effects of unaffordable medicines cut across these countries and will hurt poor people across the region.

“Every TPP government is struggling to contain rising health costs, so it’s beyond reason why provisions designed to delay the introduction of low-cost generic medicines would be allowed to make it into the final TPP agreement,” said Stephen Cornish, executive director of MSF Canada. 

For more than three years, MSF and many others have fought against US-backed proposals to impose intellectual property rules on TPP countries that would restrict the ability of governments to regulate in the interest of the public health and delay the availability of low-cost generic versions of medicines.      

For example, the TPP would allow corporations to sue governments in private supra-national arbitration over pro-public health regulations or decisions seen to be interfering with anticipated profits. The Canadian government has been sued by Eli Lilly to the tune of $500 million, based on similar provisions in NAFTA, because the corporation objects to a Canadian Supreme Court ruling rejecting the patent for two of its blockbuster drugs. As a result, Canadian law could be overturned by a ruling made in a secret, private arbitration proceeding. 

“It’s unacceptable that pharmaceutical companies, enabled by the TPP, could have the power to overturn a decision that the Canadian government or any other TPP country makes in the interest of public health,” said Cornish. “Canada must take a stand against unbridled corporate influence and steer the TPP in a direction that protects public health. This means rejecting all provisions that will serve to increase medicine prices, including special rights for corporations.”

Unable to find agreement among its trading partners on a range of harmful provisions that would affect medicine prices, the US recently proposed a staggered implementation strategy for some provisions, but only for the poorest TPP countries. However, the US-proposed intellectual property rules would eventually have to be implemented across all TPP countries. This latest US proposal willfully ignores the fact that people living across all TPP countries will be saddled with high medicine prices caused by these harmful laws, no matter when they are implemented. 

To see the harmful effects of the stringent intellectual property rules that the US seeks to impose on TPP countries, we need only look to the US market, where medicine prices have tripled since 1987, outpacing consumer prices, which have only doubled. These rules serve to block or delay robust generic competition, which was instrumental in reducing prices for first-line antiretroviral medicines for HIV/AIDS by 99 percent in developing countries over the course of a decade -- key to enabling treatment to be scaled up to more than 12 million people today. Current U.S. proposals to delay implementation of these rules for some of the less-developed TPP countries won’t solve the problem:  no matter when countries are mandated to impose these rules, the effect will be high medicine prices out of the reach of millions of people.

“TPP governments, if they allow these provisions to be included in the final agreement, will have to answer to the millions of people left behind that will suffer the deadly consequences of high medicine prices,” said Judit Rius, U.S. manager and legal policy advisor of the MSF Access Campaign. “Higher medicine prices cost lives in countries at every level of economic development, and the TPP regulations in question should be rejected outright.”

For more information on the harmful provisions being proposed in the TPP, please visit

A patient at Lizo Nobanda TB Care Centre in Khayelitsha township, takes her pills against TB.
Jose Cendon