Trans-Pacific Trade Agreement: Potential damage to global public health

NEW YORK – The proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a free trade agreement currently being negotiated among 12 Pacific Rim countries, threatens the future availability of affordable generic medicines and could undermine the global HIV response in developing countries, according to a new report released by amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research. By expanding intellectual property (IP) protections for existing pharmaceutical products beyond what is required by current international standards, the report warns, the TPP could greatly delay the entrance of generic medicines into the marketplace and keep prices high for lifesaving drugs among populations that can least afford them.

The dozen countries negotiating the TPP represent nearly 40 percent of the world’s GDP: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States, and Vietnam. If passed, the TPP would become one of the largest free trade agreements in history.

“While we recognize the importance of intellectual property protection in spurring innovation and incentivizing investment, the Trans-Pacific Partnership includes proposed provisions that go above and beyond what is required by international law and show a disregard for public health,” said amfAR Chief Executive Officer Kevin Robert Frost. “If the TPP moves forward, it will set a dangerous global precedent and put lifesaving drugs beyond the reach of millions of people with HIV/AIDS, cancer, tuberculosis and hepatitis C.”

The new amfAR brief, “Trans-Pacific Partnership: Curbing Access to Medicines Now and in the Future,” strongly opposes the aggressive IP provisions of the TPP that could lead to unnecessary loss of life.

TPP negotiations have been conducted in secret, but leaked texts of the draft agreement reveal that the U.S. is proposing several provisions indicating its embrace of aggressive IP protections that go beyond those established by the World Trade Organization’s agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS).

Through a provision on patent term extensions, for example, the TPP would make it easier for pharmaceutical companies to demand longer patent extensions and further delay the entrance of generic competition. It could also undermine the entrance of generic biologics – medical commodities developed through biological methods rather than synthetic chemical processes – into the market, including future vaccines. And it would allow the re-patenting of older drugs with minor modifications.

Generic medicines have been crucial to the massive expansion of antiretroviral treatment (ART) for nearly 12 million people with HIV in low- and middle-income countries today. Developing countries and global HIV programs such as the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria will continue to depend heavily on affordable generic drugs to deliver treatment to the millions of people who still don’t have access to it.

However, many newer and better-tolerated antiretroviral drugs are still under patent and remain out of reach for many people in developing countries.

“It’s important to note that we never would have been able to take such giant leaps in fighting the global AIDS epidemic if the proposed IP provisions under the TPP were the standard a decade ago,” said Greg Millett, amfAR Vice President and Director of Public Policy. “If the door starts to close on generic production of antiretrovirals, any hope of ending the global AIDS epidemic in our lifetime will quickly evaporate.”

The full report is available on amfAR‘s web site at

Photo: AZT pills. AZT (zidovudine), the first medication shown to be effective against HIV.  Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.



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