WHO director-general criticizes the Trans-Pacific Partnership

WHO director-general Margaret ChanThe World Health Organization director-general has criticized the Trans-Pacific Partnership for its impact on drug costs.

Margaret Chan said she has "some very serious concerns" about the TPP and that, "If these agreements open trade yet close the door to affordable medicines we have to ask the question: is this really progress at all". She added, "Can you bear the cost of $1,000 for a pill to treat Hepatitis C? Unless we get these prices down many millions of people will be left behind."

Transnational pharmaceutical corporations are highly profitable businesses that are seeking to increase those profits through extended patent protection provisions in so-called 'free trade' agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA).

The Globe and Mail's Report on Business magazine recently reported, "In the negotiations [for CETA], the European drug makers and Rx&D pressed for, and won, an increase in drug patents from 20 to 22 years in cases of regulatory delay (that is, where government safety concerns delay introduction of a drug). ...Canada freely ceded similar drug patent extensions [in the TPP because] the brand-name giants pushed for extended patent protection not just for traditional drugs but also for the new class of biotech-derived drugs known as biologics. ...Biologic drugs are produced using biological processes rather than the chemical synthesis that creates conventional drugs."

After the conclusion of the TPP talks in October, Bloomberg reported, "The agreement establishes at least a five-year minimum period during which brand-name drug companies have exclusive rights to sell treatments made from living organisms, known as biologics, after they’ve been approved. That’s fewer than the 12-year exclusivity period granted under U.S. law, but is longer than the time frame now observed by many countries in the pact."

Council of Canadians health care campaigner Michael Butler has noted, "It is estimated that changes to patent protection for pharmaceutical drugs in CETA alone could end up costing our public health care system anywhere between $850 million to $1.65 billion annually. Our costs will increase for biologics under the TPP too. In 2010, biologics comprised over 14 percent of the Canadian pharmaceutical market and cost the Canadian health care system more than $3 billion a year; biologics are expected to grow to approximately 20 percent of the market over the next decade."

We have called on the Trudeau government to hold public hearings on the TPP with a view to making significant changes to the deal.

But Reuters has reported, "Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Canada’s prime minister-designate Justin Trudeau agreed to promote the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), both seeing the free-trade deal as beneficial to the region, Japan’s foreign ministry said in a statement. The two leaders exchanged views on the pact during a 15-minute telephone call on Friday [Oct. 30], Japan’s foreign ministry said." And the Canadian Press has reported, "A White House statement on [an Oct. 19] telephone call between Trudeau and U.S. President Barack Obama said [the leaders] agreed in principle on the importance of the TPP'..."

Trudeau will be at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit on Nov. 16-18, along with President Obama and Prime Minister Abe.

It has been reported that the focus of this meeting will likely be the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The TPP could be ratified as early as April 2016 by the US Congress.

Photo: WHO director-general Margaret Chan.