U.S. Continues to Threaten Affordable Drug Lifeline for Millions

NEW YORK/SINGAPORE, DECEMBER 6, 2013—As trade ministers for countries negotiating the massive Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement convene in Singapore this weekend for high level talks aimed at securing a deal by year’s end, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) warned today that the vital lifeline of affordable generic medicines that millions depend upon could be severely constrained by the terms of the pact.

In the latest technical negotiations that ended in Salt Lake City last week, the U.S. government not only held firm on proposed intellectual property (IP) terms that have been widely rejected by its trading partners and others, including MSF, but it added an additional demand to protect high prices for newer biologic medicines, such as certain cancer and hepatitis drugs. The United States also altered the terms by which the poorest countries will need to implement these obligations.

“After two years of stonewalling its trading partners, the U.S. government is trying to use deadline pressure to force negotiators to accept the most damaging restrictions on public health and access to medicines ever to be imposed on developing countries,” said Rohit Malpani, director of policy and analysis for MSF’s Access Campaign. “The U.S. seems determined to give pharmaceutical companies more power to raise the cost of medicines for millions of people around the world, while curtailing the power of governments to protect public health. MSF urges all TPP countries to reject political pressure to accept damaging rules in the final push to conclude the negotiations.” 


For a summary of MSF’s concerns, read an open letter sent to all TPP countries, and a briefing document, Trading Away Health, for more information.


The U.S. has put forth a new demand that clinical data for biologic medicines be locked up for 12 years, granting additional monopoly protection to biopharmaceutical firms. This “data exclusivity” provision will prevent drug regulatory agencies from referencing data needed to approve lower-cost versions of expensive medicines, thereby delaying price-lowering competition. This proposal directly contravenes the White House’s own calls to reduce data exclusivity terms in the U.S. to seven years to protect consumers from additional years of high medicine prices.

In an attempt to gain political concessions, the U.S. is proposing that several of the poorest countries included in the negotiations be able to temporarily defer full implementation of a few of the provisions in the intellectual property chapter. But all countries—including the poorest—would still immediately be saddled with intellectual property restrictions that far exceed what is required under international trade rules. Eventually, all of the harmful terms would be applied to all TPP countries.

 “The U.S. claims that its amended proposal offers the same concessions made to a few developing countries by the prior administration in previous trade agreements, but in fact, what’s on offer today is more damaging than what was agreed to in those trade deals,” said Judit Rius Sanjuan, U.S. manager of MSF’s Access Campaign. “The U.S. government’s superficial concessions reveal that it remains tone-deaf to public health concerns. The amended offer would ultimately have disastrous effects on poor people across the region, and should be rejected.”

Background Information: The TPP Leak

Last month, the text of the intellectual property chapter currently under negotiation was leaked to the public, revealing the stark contrast between the US position and that of nearly every other country in the negotiation. The leaked IP chapter shows the US demanding some of the harshest provisions against access to medicines ever included in a trade agreement, gutting public health safeguards and leaving countries unable to take the steps needed to protect the lives and health of people.

The leak also shows that some governments, including Canada, Chile, New Zealand, Malaysia, and Singapore, have put forth a counter-proposal that better protects access to medicines, but reports from the latest talks indicate that the US has refused to engage in discussions about this counter-proposal, and their position remains extremely damaging to public health and access to medicines.