The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) – a massive trade pact between 12 Pacific Rim countries – could limit the availability of affordable medicines, said the head of the World Health Organisation.
In a heated debate on the impact of TPP, Margaret Chan said there were “some very serious concerns” about the deal, a central plank of US President Barack Obama’s trade policy which still needs to be ratified by member governments.
“If these agreements open trade yet close the door to affordable medicines we have to ask the question: is this really progress at all,” Chan asked a conference in Geneva.
Countries like United States, Canada, Japan and Australia, who are backing the deal, say it will cut trade barriers and set common standards across 40% of the world’s economy.
On the other end of the debate, which includes leaders of India’s US$15 billion (RM65 billion) pharmaceuticals industry, say it could be protecting the patents of powerful drugs companies within the deal area, restricting makers of cheaper generic drugs outside.
“Can you bear the cost of US$1,000 for a pill to treat Hepatitis C?,” Chan asked the audience of health experts, academics and diplomats.
“Unless we get these prices down many millions of people will be left behind.”
All countries under WHO do not object to the private sector making a fair profit, but she was concerned about companies influencing decision-making in health policy, she added.
“I worry about interference by powerful economic operators in the new targets for alcohol, tobacco and non-communicable diseases, including many that are diet-related. Economic power readily translates into political power.”
Chan urged TPPA to find the right balance between encouraging innovation and keeping drugs affordable, but some recent innovations had led to “astronomical” price rises.
Other than WHO, US unions, lawmakers and interest groups are also concerned over the text of the deal, setting up a potentially difficult path to ratification by the United States, the biggest of the 12 partners.
US labour representatives said the agreement contained weak, poorly worded or unenforceable provisions.
If the deal were to go ahead, the TPP will be a legacy-defining achievement for Obama and his administration’s pivot to Asia, aimed at countering China’s rising economic and political influence.
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