Public health groups condemn stronger medicine monopolies as RCEP talks continue

MEDIA RELEASE, 18 October 2016: Ninety-four public health and other community groups from 12 countries have condemned proposals for the inclusion of stronger medicine monopolies in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) as secret negotiations continue this week in China.

The open letter to RCEP governments is available here.

The RCEP includes the 10 ASEAN countries plus China, India, Japan, Korea, Australia and New Zealand, making a total of 16 countries covering half the world’s population. Seven of these countries have signed the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP), but no government has yet passed the TPP implementing legislation. The adoption of stronger medicine monopolies following lobbying by pharmaceutical companies is one of the most controversial issues in the TPP.

“The RCEP is supposed to address the needs of developing countries. But leaked documents have revealed that Japan and Korea have made TPP-like proposals on stronger medicine monopolies which would delay the availability of cheaper versions of medicines, for even longer than current 20-year patents. These include patent term extensions, data exclusivity and even removal of exemptions from medicine monopolies for the poorest countries like Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar. This is literally a life or death issue for millions of people,” Dr Patricia Ranald, Convener of the Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network (AFTINET) said today.

“Extended monopolies would delay the availability of affordable medicines and prevent countries like India, the world’s largest producer of generic medicines, from making them available in poorer countries. For example, the availability of generics has reduced the cost of HIV/AIDS treatments over time by up to 98 per cent, making them affordable in developing countries. Extending monopolies on new forms of treatment would be a disaster for developing countries, and would also increase costs to the public health system in Australia.

“It is scandalous that wealthier countries in the RCEP are supporting stronger monopolies for pharmaceutical companies in the name of a free-trade agreement. We call on the Australian government and all RCEP governments to oppose stronger medicine monopolies which are the opposite of free trade and would delay competitive access to affordable medicines for all,” said Dr Ranald.

Download the PDF press release here.