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Prescription for profits: the TPP and pharmaceuticals

Catherine Gendron

November 5, 2015

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) must be seen for what it is: a corporate bill of rights.

The investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) system embodies their superseding voice; even the former chief economist and vice-president at the World Bank has exclaimed opposition towards it. As Joseph Stiglitz wrote, “ISDS goes much further: The obligation to compensate investors for losses of expected profits can and has been applied even where rules are non-discriminatory and profits are made from causing public harm.” This sinister obligation particularly disturbs the provision and research of health care.

Big Pharma

As if “Big Pharma” didn’t already wield substantial power, the TPP will extend their power—as evidenced from leaked content. Intellectual property rights will guarantee pharmaceutical companies the right to increase their control of patented medications: they will have the ability to prevent generics from competing, and stop “biosimilar” (another term for medicine that is akin to one that has already been licensed) from producing new medications for years. If countries involved in the TPP have an aim to ensure universal and affordable health care, pharmaceutical companies will have a way to stop it.

It has been demonstrated that intellectual property rights solely benefit pharmaceutical companies, and not people. Where is the drive for research and affordable generics when trade laws may result in legal prosecution? Moreover, the extension of patents and control results in pharmaceutical companies charging whatever they want without public involvement and without competition due to the delay of lower-cost generics. Doctors Without Borders warned the public of the effects the TPP would have; as Judit Rius Sanjuan, explains: people “need access to affordable medicines; innovation without access is meaningless.”

People across Canada already experience the second highest per capita cost of medicine in the world after the US; the passing of the TPP ensures rising pharmaceutical costs and further solidifies Big Pharma control. The TPP also weakens the goal of a universal drug plan. In countries where universal health care is provided, Canada remains the exception, but with the rising costs that are sure to coincide with the TPP, the goal for a universal drug plan is further pushed from the agenda. 

The TPP was negotiated without any public involvement and Harper hoped people would be too distracted by the election to realize. But already there has been resistance, and not all counties have agreed to sign as of yet. Public pressure to stop the TPP must continue to grow; the newly elected federal government has repeatedly insisted on transparency and public involvement—let’s make sure they hear us. 

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