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UNITAID concerned that TPP negotiations undermine public health goals

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Geneva, 12th November 2013 - UNITAID has expressed concern about some aspects of the ongoing Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) negotiations between countries in Asia Pacific. 

“Many of the agreement’s provisions still under discussion could significantly affect access to medicines through hampering generic competition if adopted,” said Dr Denis Broun, Executive Director of UNITAID.  “The immediate impact would be in the countries that are party to the agreement, but it is likely to not stop there. The TPPA has already been touted as the new ‘gold standard’ for future trade deals, and we would therefore expect that this would set the precedent for similar limiting provisions to be included in these future agreements, including with developing countries.”

Specifically, UNITAID is concerned about reports that the TPPA would impose low standards for patents which is likely to lead to a proliferation of secondary patents being granted (or “ever greening”), preventing fair competition for long periods. UNITAID is also concerned about other “TRIPS-plus” provisions, such as data exclusivity, patent-registration linkage and extensions of the patent term. All these different provisions are likely to complicate and delay generic competition and are of concern as generic competition has been key in making medicines affordable, and therefore accessible, to people in low-income countries, according to Dr Broun.

Border measures are another area of concern.  They would allow customs officials to seize medicine shipments on the suspicion of trademark infringement while they are in transit from an exporting country to their destination.  Unjustified seizures disrupt the supply of critical medicines, which can have serious public health consequences, since they can lead to the unavailability or interruption of treatment. They also undermine the work of organizations like UNITAID, and could even affect countries that are not party to the TPPA.  

The concerns do not end there. Other potentially problematic provisions that   reportedly are under consideration include an investor-state dispute settlement mechanism. “This means that large foreign companies are allowed to sue a government, when they do not agree with that government’s actions” added Dr Broun.  “For example, when a government uses TRIPS flexibilities, the affected company can use this mechanism to seek compensation.  Flexibilities were included in TRIPS to enable governments to protect public interests, such as access to medicines.  UNITAID urges governments not to underestimate the importance of these flexibilities and to make sure negotiations are conducted in a public manner, allowing all interested parties to check that they do not undermine or bypass public health priorities.”

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