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Row Over Medicines Could Derail Pacific Trade Pact for Half a Year

© Sputnik / Sergey Pyatakov / Go to the photo bankPills packed at a blister machine. File photo
Pills packed at a blister machine. File photo - Sputnik International
Bitter disputes over rules governing the international marketing of pharmaceutical drugs could delay the 12-nation Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement from being completed by at least half a year, experts told Sputnik.

WASHINGTON (Sputnik) – Countries such as Vietnam, Australia and New Zealand are concerned that the TPP terms backed by the US government could give giant manufacturers sweeping advantages and threaten to restrict and raise the costs of medicines in their smaller domestic markets, Food and Water Watch Research Director Patrick Woodall told Sputnik.

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“This issue will be resolved, but it may not be quickly. This dispute could drag on for as much as six months. The negotiations may be very difficult at times,” Eurasian Business Coalition Vice President Ralph Winnie told Sputnik.

The TPP, a top priority for US President Barack Obama’s administration, is a controversial trade pact being negotiated in secret between the United States and 11 Asian and Pacific Rim nations. The deal is expected to cover about 40 percent of the global economy.

The pharmaceutical issue remains a major sticking point in negotiations as access to drugs has implications on countries’ healthcare systems and costs.

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“Pharmaceuticals are important,” Winnie said. “They have to be certified and therefore it is important that all the parties to the TPP will come to agree on uniform standards that will apply to all of them.”

“Each country has its own concerns with the TPP, but the concerns over the intellectual property provisions governing pharmaceuticals have topped almost everyone’s list,” Woodall said.

“The provisions backed by US trade negotiators and the US pharmaceutical industry extend drug patents, limit the access to generic medicines, and prohibit or limit bulk purchasing by government health care plans,” Woodall warned.

However long and difficult the negotiations are now, it is better for the long-term prospects of the trade deal if such major problems are resolve in advance, rather than leading to angry disputes in the future, Winnie argued.

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“It is good that Vietnam and Australia are raising their concerns over pharmaceuticals now rather than accepting terms that could lead to angry protests after the agreement goes into effect,” Winnie said. “Such issues have to be taken care of before the TPP goes into effect.”

Other special interest giveaways on patents and intellectual property benefit the drug manufacturers, Woodall pointed out.

“There are lots of other issues at stake as well,” Woodall added. “[T]he vast new powers accorded to companies allow them to bring their own cross-border investment cases against regulatory measures the firms feel restrict their business opportunities.”

On June 29, US President Barack Obama signed Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) legislation, which gives him the power to fast-track negotiations on international free trade agreements, such as the TPP, without the US Congress being able to amend a deal.

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