- Pharmaceutical monopoly protections cost the Australian health system hundreds of millions of dollars each year, according to Dr Deborah Gleeson.
Sydney Morning Herald | 23 Feb 2015
Affordable medicines could be at risk as US seeks to firm up protections
Access to affordable medicines could be under threat in Australia if the United States gets its way in secretive negotiations over a massive trade deal involving 12 Pacific-region countries, academics have warned.
If Australian negotiators give the US what it wants in these negotiations they will also put at risk the financial sustainability of Australia’s Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, they say.
Dr Deborah Gleeson, from Melbourne’s La Trobe University, has warned in the Medical Journal of Australia that pharmaceutical monopoly protections already cost the Australian health system hundreds of millions of dollars a year, and new US ambitions for intellectual property protections would "expand and entrench" those monopolies, making it even costlier.
Ms Gleeson says leaked drafts of part of the secretive trade deal, the so-called Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA), also show that the government will find it harder to pursue patent reform in the future if it agrees to US demands.
Her piece comes a week after 27 senior health leaders from 7 of the 12 TPP countries signed and published a letter in the Lancet – one of the world’s leading medical journals – calling on governments involved in the negotiations to publicly release the full draft text of the agreement before committing to its binding legal terms.
Ms Gleeson, along with Dr Hazel Moir from the Australian National University, and Ruth Lopert from George Washington University in the United States, are urging the Abbott government to think seriously about the potential ramifications of the TPPA on Australia’s health system before signing anything.
"Three of the greatest concerns for Australia in the recent draft include provisions that would further entrench secondary patenting and evergreening, lock in extensions to patent terms, and extend monopoly rights over clinical trial data for certain medicines," Ms Gleeson warns.
"Pharmaceutical monopoly protections already cost the Australian health system hundreds of millions of dollar each year. US ambitions ... would expand and entrench costly monopolies in Australia, with no evidence of any countervailing benefit to the Australian public."
"The government’s stated concern about the need to ensure the sustainability of the PBS can hardly be credible if it ignores this warning in the final stages of the TPPA negotiations," she warns.
Trade Minister Andrew Robb told Fairfax Media last week that critics of the TPP did not know what was in the agreement and were in no place to know what its final draft will look like.
But he also said he would not agree to anything that was against Australia’s interests.
"Some of the assertions are ridiculous. The people making them know what the US wants because the US informs its industries, but they do not know what the US is going to get," Mr Robb told Fairfax Media.
"A lot of the people who are agitating about health and sovereignty are doing it because those issues are politically sensitive. They’ve grabbed onto those issues because they think they can frighten people, but a lot of their agenda is anti trade."
"I am not going to do something that I think is not in the public interest. That’s true for health and it’s true for investor-state dispute settlement procedures," he said.
The Lancet claimed last week that health agencies in TPP countries have been forced to rely on leaks of draft chapters of the secretive negotiations, while US-based industry advisers have been granted "privileged access to the negotiating documents."
Mr Robb says the TPPA may be ready to sign next month.