Patent Protection for Drugs Puts Pressure on U.S. in Trade Talks

Friday, July 31, 2015

With 12 nations pressing to conclude the largest regional trade accord ever, United States officials find themselves squeezed between activists pressing to secure access to low-cost pharmaceuticals and Republicans who say Congress will reject a deal without strong patent protections for the drug industry.

Negotiators gathered this week in Maui hoping the long-sought accord might be finished by Friday. But dozens of issues remain unresolved on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would link nations like Canada, Chile, Australia and Japan under rules of commerce covering 40 percent of the global economy.

No issue seems to elicit more passion than pharmaceuticals, where both sides are using the language of life and death.

“The goal of the pharmaceutical industry is to change the rules internationally, to change global norms with a new monopoly that is cheaper for the companies and stronger,” said Judit Rius Sanjuan, a legal policy adviser for Doctors Without Borders’ medical access campaign, which wants lower-cost drugs on the market faster.

On the other side, Senator Orrin G. Hatch, the Utah Republican who is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, singled out the next generation of pharmaceuticals, called biologics, and warned on Wednesday that “a strong intellectual-property chapter — including strong patent and regulatory data protections for biologics — is vital to securing congressional support for this trade deal.”

The complexity of the pharmaceutical issues illustrates how difficult it will be to agree on broad trade rules for 12 countries, including giants like the United States and Japan and developing counties like Peru, Malaysia, Vietnam and tiny Brunei. United States negotiators are using novel arguments to secure positions. For instance, they are pushing to mandate open access to the Internet as an antipiracy measure, so Hollywood can use streaming videos to completely cut out the often-copied DVD.

Source: The New York Times (link opens in a new window)

Health Care
international trade