Email Craig Emerson - don’t trade away health

We are asking individual members and supporters, to send an email message to Trade Minister Dr Craig Emerson

The Australian government is negotiating a Trans- Pacific Partnership free trade agreement with the United States, New Zealand, Chile, Peru, Brunei, Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam.

But the agenda on health issues is being set by giant US corporations. Leaked US documents reveal that pharmaceutical companies are demanding higher prices for medicines through more rights to delay access to cheaper generic medicines, and changes to the Australian Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. US tobacco companies like Philip Morris are demanding the right to sue governments over proposed tobacco plain packaging legislation. Negotiations are ongoing. We must urge our government to stand by its policies and refuse these demands.



Dear Dr Emerson

 

Re Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement and health issues

The Australian government is negotiating a Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) with the US, New Zealand, Chile, Peru, Brunei, Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam.

US pharmaceutical and tobacco corporations have made public submissions and are lobbying the US Trade Representative to make proposals on intellectual property rights, government pricing schemes for medicines and investor state dispute processes which are contrary to your government's trade policy announced on April 12, 2011, would be against the interests of Australian health consumers, and would increase public health costs.

They have made submissions stating that they want to use the negotiations to:

  • increase intellectual property rights which would give pharmaceutical corporations more rights to charge higher prices for longer periods for medicines, and delay cheaper generic medicines from coming onto the market;
  • restrict the ability of governments to provide medicines at affordable prices through schemes like the Australian Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS);
  • give corporations like Philip Morris the right to sue governments for millions of dollars when they try to protect public health through regulation like the tobacco plain packaging legislation.

Leaked documents from the negotiations revealed that this lobbying is having an impact on the proposals put forward by the US trade representative in the negotiations. Intellectual property law experts from the US and Australia have produced an analysis which shows that the US proposals would require substantial changes to Australian intellectual property law, which would increase the rights of pharmaceutical companies to charge monopoly prices for longer periods by extending patent periods and delaying the availability of cheaper generic drugs. This can be found at www.aftinet.org.au.

There are also proposals concerning government pricing schemes for medicines, like the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. The US government does not have an equivalent scheme at the national level, and the wholesale prices of medicines are three to ten times the prices paid in Australia. Under the PBS, the wholesale price of medicines is lower than in the US because health experts compare the price and effectiveness of new medicines with the price of cheaper generic medicines with the same health effects. The government then subsidises the retail price. Lower wholesale prices reduce the cost of the PBS subsidy to the government.

Proposals in the TPPA negotiations which would give more rights to pharmaceutical companies to challenge pricing and reimbursement decisions would restrict the ability of governments to ensure the lowest possible wholesale prices are paid for medicines. Proposals for direct advertising medicines to consumers, which is not an accepted practice anywhere except in the US, would lead to over prescribing which would also add substantially to costs.

Finally, US trade negotiators are persisting with their demands for an investor state dispute settlement process, which would give a single corporation the right to sue governments for damages on the grounds that government regulation, including health regulation, was harmful to their business. As you know, the Philip Morris tobacco company has recently announced that it will take action against the Australian government plain packaging legislation using an obscure Australia/Hong Kong investment treaty.

I welcomed the statements in the April 12 trade policy,  that the Australian government “has not and will not accept provisions that limit its capacity to put health warnings or plain packaging requirements on tobacco products or its ability to continue the pharmaceutical benefits scheme,” and “the government will not support provisions that would confer greater legal rights on foreign businesses than those available to domestic businesses, ”  and therefore will not support the detrimental changes to the PBS or inclusion of investor state dispute resolution procedures in trade agreements. I also welcomed the trade policy statement support for the recommendation of the 2010 Productivity Commission Report, which recommended against the expansion of intellectual property rights in trade agreements.

I am aware of the pressures of trade negotiations conducted behind closed doors. I urge you to ensure that the Australian government does not agree to the expansion of intellectual property rights, to measures that would reduce the ability to ensure the lowest possible wholesale prices through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, or to an investor-state dispute resolution process, and will not sign an agreement which contains these measures.

I look forward to your reply.

Yours sincerely

Your Address