Media Release: Professor Jane Kelsey. Wednesday 30 March 2011
The UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health, Anand Grover, has been asked to issue an Urgent Appeal to the governments negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA). The sixth round of talks is underway in Singapore this week.
The complaint was coordinated by US-based Knowledge Ecology International and signed by ten prominent public health and trade justice groups and three law professors, including Professor Jane Kelsey from the University of Auckland.
In 2009, the Special Rapporteur found that increasingly inflexible FTAs have an “adverse impact on prices and availability of medicines, making it difficult for countries to comply with their obligations to respect, protect, and fulfill the right to health”.
The UN Human Rights Council has previously determined that States hold a responsibility “to ensure access to all, without discrimination, of medicines, in particular essential medicines that are affordable and of good quality”.
The complaint centres on the US’ draft intellectual property chapter for the TPPA, leaked in February. It alleges the US proposals “significantly erode the public health safeguards and flexibilities contained in international documents” and “infringe upon the human right to health”, including “access to medicines and medical treatment”, that has been “derived from, or affirmed in, numerous international documents”.
In particular, proposed norms on patent term, data exclusivity, registration of new medicines and enforcement would strengthen drug companies’ monopolies over life saving medicines, raise prices and create barriers to access.
The purely commercial focus of the TPPA overrides public health obligations, “pitting nations and residents of very different incomes, interests and power into a situation where health is traded for market access is unrelated fields”. As the only superpower in the talks, the US wields unequal bargaining power on behalf of its corporations.
The secrecy surrounding the talks also breaches international law rights to information and participation in public affairs for affected parties. This results in social exclusion, especially for marginalised groups that will be most affected by the outcome, such as those with HIV/AIDS. By contrast, the US Industry Trade Advisory Committee on Intellectual Property Rights has 15 members, all representing large corporate interests.
Professor Kelsey said the complaint raises very live concerns for New Zealand. “A wide range of professional and community groups are aware that a TPPA could damage vital public health initiatives, from policies to reverse the damage caused by tobacco and alcohol to life saving treatment for people living with HIV/Aids and cancer.”
“We know that US Big Pharma wants sink the Pharmac scheme that allows the health budget to buy more and makes medicines affordable for all New Zealanders. The Prime Minister has already hinted at trade-offs.”
“Hopefully, the intervention by the UN Rapporteur will make the government think twice before it puts the commercial interests of Fonterra ahead of our international obligations and New Zealanders’ right to affordable, accessible, quality health care”, said Professor Kelsey.