As trade ministers meet in Hawaii on 28-31 July in an effort to finalise the Trans Pacific Partnership, the Public Health Association of Australia and other stakeholders say that lives are at stake.

“Future access to medicines for almost 800 million people hangs in the balance this week,” says Michael Moore, CEO of the PHAA.

Médecins sans Frontières last week said that the TPP could be the most harmful trade deal ever for access to medicines and called on trade negotiators to remove “damaging” access to medicines provisions in the TPP trade deal or risk locking in high drug prices and endangering the health of millions of people for decades.

Decisions made this week could dramatically reduce access to essential medicines in developing countries like Vietnam, Malaysia and Peru, PHAA says.

“Medicines could also become unaffordable for disadvantaged Australians,” says Dr Deborah Gleeson, spokesperson for PHAA, who is on site in Maui during the TPP ministers’ meeting.

“The United States is pressing other countries to accept longer monopolies for biologic products, which include treatments for conditions like cancer and rheumatoid arthritis.

Some of these drugs cost more than a hundred thousand dollars per patient per year, she says.

“Lengthening monopolies for these drugs – by even one year – would drain hundreds of millions of dollars from our Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme,” Dr Gleeson says.

“The most likely result is higher co-payments for medicines – hitting hardest the sickest and poorest people in our community.”

The United States is seeking 8-12 years of monopoly protection for biologics. This would keep cheaper alternatives off the market for three to seven years longer than the current period in Australia, PHAA says.

“The Australian Government has assured us that it won’t accept anything in the TPP that would undermine the PBS or increase the cost of medicines for Australians,” says Moore.

“In the final days and hours of ‘horse trading’, it is vitally important that the Government sticks to this commitment, no matter what offers are made in other areas, such as sugar.”

PHAA says it is also concerned at the prospect that Australia may agree to the controversial investor-state dispute settlement clause, allowing corporations such as tobacco companies to sue.

“We’ve been told that there are strong safeguards to protect health and the environment,” says Dr Gleeson.

“But what we’ve seen of these safeguards in leaked negotiating documents gives us little confidence that they will prevent cases like the case by tobacco company Philip Morris against Australia over tobacco plain packaging.”

“The only way to make sure that countries can’t be bullied by big corporations over their health and environmental policies is not to agree to ISDS at all,” says Moore.

The Australian Medical Students’ Association is also urging the Australian Government not to accept a TPP agreement that compromises the health of Australians.

“This trade agreement will result in longer and more monopolistic drug patents, which will see the price of medications rise, and deliver a brutal blow to the accessibility of generic alternatives,” says AMSA President James Lawler.

“The Australian Government should do everything in its power to ensure medications are no more expensive due to this agreement.”

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