Time for transparency on the TPP

For the last five years, Canada and 11 other countries have been secretly negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), often described as “NAFTA on steroids.”

Among many other concerns, health groups have been sounding the alarm that access to affordable medicines for millions of people in the negotiating countries could be one of those things traded away – unless concerned citizens speak up. Médecins sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) has warned that the TPP could become “the most harmful trade pact ever for access to medicines in developing countries.”

These fears have been confirmed by several leaks of the intellectual property chapter of the TPP, which would strengthen private rights for multinational pharmaceutical companies by expanding and prolonging their patent monopolies on drugs, at the expense of affordable medicines for millions of people.

Another chapter would weaken the ability of Canada and other countries to prevent excessive drug pricing, by creating more opportunities for pharmaceutical companies to undermine provincial and federal government decisions on how drugs get covered under public health insurance programs.

And yet another chapter on “investment” could give drug companies – in one of the most profitable industries in the world – greater rights to sue sovereign governments over ”interference” with their “expectations” of profit. In fact, Canada is already facing an unprecedented suit by Eli Lilly under this sort of chapter in an existing trade agreement (NAFTA), which only highlights the dangers of including yet more such measures in the TPP.

Giving in to these sorts of demands – which are being pushed aggressively by the US and Big Pharma – would hit people in developing countries the hardest. But it would be damaging and dangerous for Canadians as well, meaning even higher drug costs and therefore more pressure on provincial and federal governments, and private insurance plans, to deny coverage for the medicines Canadians need.

Given what’s at stake, the Legal Network and numerous other Canadian civil society groups have called previously on the federal government to be transparent about what’s on the table – so far, to no avail. (See our earlier letter and brief to International Trade Minister Ed Fast here.)

TPP negotiators met in Washington, D.C. again last week. At the same time, the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network joined 47 other civil society groups and experts from around the world in calling on trade ministers of the negotiating countries to put an end to the secret negotiations, by publishing both the current draft of the agreement and details of all nations’ negotiating positions.

Click here to see our open letter to trade ministers (sent December 11, 2014).

Richard Elliott
Executive Director
Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network