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Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership trade agreement begins in Hyderabad

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Face opposition from public health activists over suggested IP provisions, call them threat to public health

The next round of negotiations on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) trade agreement, begins in Hyderabad today. It is the 19th round of negotiations for the free trade agreement involving sixteen countries [Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) + 6] since 2012. Reportedly, 700 officials from the negotiating countries are gathering to negotiate the RCEP.

A move for improved market access

Trade in goods, trade in services, investment, economic and technical cooperation, intellectual property, competition, dispute settlement, e-commerce, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) etc come under the purview of the negotiations.

The ASEAN Member States and ASEAN’s FTA partners are engaged in the RCEP negotiations to enable a contemporary, comprehensive, high-quality, and mutually beneficial economic partnership agreement. The agreement is expected to help lower trade barriers and ensure improved market access for goods and services for businesses in the region.

Opposition from public health activists

However, the negotiations, to be held from July 24 to 28, have faced opposition from several activists comprising many patients with HIV/AIDS, public health experts, and Doctors Without Borders/ Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) who claim that the rules proposed in the trade deal are damaging and is likely to undermine access to affordable medicines for people worldwide.

A major bone of contention has been the supposed push for intellectual property (IP) provisions of ‘Data Exclusivity’ and ‘Patent Term Extensions’. MSF argues that these rules will introduce new monopolies for pharma corporations, undermining generic competition that is critical for lowering medicine prices and ensuring access to affordable medicines for procurers, treatment providers and patients.

The outcomes of these negotiations would have far-reaching implications and significant impact on the progress of the region.

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