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Withdraw ‘TRIPS-plus’ proposals: MSF to Japan, S Korea

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Response targets the 18th round of the RCEP trade talks, to be held in Manila this week

As negotiators from the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and six further countries — India, China, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and South Korea — meet for the 18th round of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) trade agreement’s negotiations in Manila this week, MSF has released yet another warning of the impact of this multilateral trade deal that covers nearly half of the global population.

According to an MSF release, Japan and South Korea are pushing for measures that go beyond what is required by the World Trade Organization’s Agreement on Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS), called ‘TRIPS-plus.’ This would mean extending drug corporations’ patent terms and entrenching new monopolies in the national drug regulatory system (data exclusivity) in countries like India, leading to a delay in generic competition, which translates into high drug prices for people across the world. Further, the proposed investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) provision in the leaked draft investment chapter and its intersection with other proposals on IP could potentially undermine governments’ capacity to implement and execute policies to protect public health and ensure universal healthcare, of which access to life-saving medicines is an essential component.

MSF believes that this round is also likely to see an increased focus by negotiators on intellectual property (IP) enforcement. The draft RCEP text on ‘IP enforcement’ omits several procedural guarantees, safeguards and protections available under WTO trade rules and are a blank cheque for abuse, with numerous provisions that will prevent the flow of generic medicines from producer to patient. As an important safeguard measure, MSF has appealed to negotiators to consider the deletion of patents and test data from the entire scope of the enforcement section.

Alluding to the impact on India, Leena Menghaney, Head-South Asia, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) Access Campaign points out, “Trade negotiators from RCEP countries will be thrashing out modalities of harmful investor-state provisions in the upcoming rounds of RCEP that will increase the risk of countries like India being sued by pharmaceutical corporations for millions of dollars in secret tribunals – outside of domestic courts. Already, Swiss corporations like Novartis have threatened to sue Colombia using such measures to pressure the government to drop its health minister’s proposal to allow a supply of more affordable generic versions of a key leukaemia drug, imatinib, into the country. We are worried that accepting retrograde provisions in this trade deal will have a chilling effect on the Indian government’s ability to use measures including the rejection of ever greening patent claims and price regulation to make treatment affordable for people who need it.”

“In the course of our medical work, we have seen the impact of IP barriers in the regulatory system blocking access to low cost generic medicines. Data exclusivity prevents manufacturers from registering more affordable generic formulations and in some cases, generic versions of drugs like those to treat hepatitis C have been pulled off the market, despite not being patented in a country,” says Jessica Burry, HIV/HCV Pharmacist, MSF Access Campaign. “As MSF, we are appealing to Japan and South Korea to withdraw their harmful proposals which will restrict people’s access to affordable generic medicines. The negotiators must protect public health safeguards that enable developing countries like India to keep supplying life-saving affordable medicines needed to treat millions of people worldwide.”

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