Leak raises access to medicines concerns


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Negotiating text leaked online last week raises serious concerns for worldwide access to medicines, warns the Public Health Association of Australia.

“A proposed intellectual property chapter to Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) Agreement was leaked online last week which contains provisions that, if agreed to, would extend pharmaceutical monopolies in several low and middle income negotiating countries,” says Dr Belinda Townsend, spokesperson for PHAA, who is attending the RCEP stakeholder consultations in Perth.

Trade negotiators from 16 Asia Pacific countries are meeting in Perth this week for the twelfth round of negotiations of the RCEP Agreement. The RCEP is being negotiated by Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member states and the six countries that have existing trade agreements with ASEAN; Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea.

“This could delay the availability of cheaper generic pharmaceuticals in the region where several countries face economic pressures to ensure access to medicines,” saysDr Townsend.

“Of particular concern is the inclusion of India in RCEP, one of the world’s leading suppliers of generic medicines.

“If India were to agree to these provisions, its generic industry could be delayed in providing cheaper lifesaving medicines for the world’s poor, which could have fatal consequences,” says Dr Townsend.

PHAA is also concerned about the inclusion of an investor state dispute settlement mechanism in the agreement.

“ISDS has been used by corporations to sue governments over their health and environment policies. While Philip Morris lost its case against Australia over tobacco plain packaging laws, the case was thrown out on jurisdictional grounds so it isn’t a great test for ISDS and public health,” says Dr Townsend.

“Legal experts have pointed out that so-called safeguards in other agreements contain loopholes by which companies could still sue governments over their public health regulations, which is why the PHAA urges the government to reject the inclusion of ISDS in RCEP,” she says.

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