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Health groups appeal to RCEP negotiators to remove harmful IP proposals from discussions

Ramesh Shankar, Mumbai
Wednesday, June 15, 2016, 08:00 Hrs  [IST]

Even as negotiators from 16 countries have gathered in Auckland, New Zealand for the 13th round of negotiations of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) trade deal, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and other health organisations have appealed for the removal of alarming intellectual property proposals tabled by Japan and South Korea that will go beyond what international trade rules require, and would undermine access to affordable generic medicines.

These harmful intellectual property provisions could potentially raise treatment costs by creating new forms of monopolies and delay the entry of affordable generics in the market. If the intellectual property provisions proposed by Japan and South Korea are accepted, these health groups fear, the access to essential medicines will be restricted for millions of people across Asia and the world who rely on life-saving affordable generics made in India.

RCEP is a regional trade agreement being negotiated between the 10 ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries and Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea. RCEP countries are home to nearly 50 per cent of the world’s population, including the most impoverished, vulnerable and marginalised communities living in the Least Developed Countries (LDCs).

A leaked copy of the intellectual property text being discussed at the negotiations shows that Japan and South Korea have made several alarming proposals to include intellectual property rules that go beyond what international trade rules require, and that would undermine access to affordable generic medicines. MSF and other health organisations have been working to remove similarly harmful provisions from another trade deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, which would restrict access to medicines for more than 800 million people living in 12 Pacific Rim countries.

“Unless negotiators remove harmful provisions from RCEP, this trade deal is set to follow the dangerous path of the US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, which is recognised globally as the worst trade deal ever for access to medicines. We appeal to India’s intellectual property negotiators in particular to stand by the promise made last week by health minister JP Nadda at the UN High Level Meeting on HIV/AIDS that ‘India is committed to maintaining TRIPS flexibilities to ensure access to affordable medicines',” said Leena Menghaney of MSF Access Campaign, India.

Chalermsak Kittitrakul of AIDS Access, Thailand said, “If the RCEP trade deal imposes harmful ‘TRIPS-plus’ provisions, including patent term extensions and data exclusivity, access to affordable medicine will be restricted across the region. A 2008 study found that five-year patent term extensions in Thailand would increase medicine costs by nearly six billion dollars over twenty years, severely affecting the national health insurance system that cares for over 48 million people.”

“The RCEP trade deal threatens to undermine India and China’s role as major suppliers of generic medicines for people in the developing world, including both low- and middle-income countries such as Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, the Philippines and Thailand. Access to affordable generic medicines is vital for these countries to address public health challenges, including HIV, tuberculosis, viral hepatitis and non-communicable diseases, and to ensure that their governments can progressively realize the sustainable development goal of universal access to health care. If RCEP imposes high levels of intellectual property protection, these countries could lose their capacity to increase access to affordable of medicines for their populations,” said Belinda Townsend of Public Health Association of Australia.

 

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