From Fairfax’s Peter Martin this morning comes news that eight health and community organisations have written to Trade Minister, Andrew Robb, expressing “grave concerns” about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) – the US-led trade deal between 12 pacific rim nations, including Australia.
According to Martin, the groups are concerned that the proposed Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) clause, which would allow foreign corporations to sue governments in overseas tribunals, could have dire implications for public health policies and programs:
The letter is signed by the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations, the Australian Health Promotion Association, the Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network, the Australian Medical Students Association, the NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association, the Centre for Health Equity Training Research and Evaluation, the Public Health Advocacy Institute of Western Australia and the Public Health Association of Australia…
“If the clauses are to be included in the agreement, what we want to see is safeguards that prevent corporations from making claims against governments over policies like tobacco plain packaging, limits on alcohol advertising and food labelling requirements,” said Michael Moore of the Public Health Association of Australia. “As it stands, the chapter appears to allow these sorts of policies to be challenged.”
Separately at Fairfax, Harriet Alexander has reported that the peak lobby group for American pharmaceutical manufacturers has been given a seat at the TPP negotiating table, however, public health and community organisations have been bared from accessing the draft text, heightening the risks of poor outcomes for consumers and taxpayers:
Some of the measures that Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) has publicly lobbied to be included in the Trans Pacific Partnership have subsequently appeared in draft versions of the agreement that have been leaked by Wikileaks.
…Public Health Association spokeswoman Deborah Gleeson said… “US corporations have a much higher level of access to what’s going on in the negotiations and to the text itself, whereas health and community organisations are reliant on the leaked drafts for information”…
Provisions in draft versions of the TPP, such as secondary patenting and extended data protection, were antithetical to the affordability of medicines, she said.
Of course, these concerns follow those of Australia’s primary negotiator on medicines on the US-Australia Free Trade Agreement (FTA), Dr Ruth Lopert, who last month warned that the TPP could force Australian taxpayers to spend millions of dollars more to subsidise medicines:
“The objective is to prolong monopolies on medicines and thereby maintain prices. While the medicine has a monopoly in the market the price can be determined by the seller”…
“The taxpayer will be paying more. Ultimately, if this affects the long-term sustainability of the PBS, that will likely be pushed onto consumers through higher co-payments.
Lopert also warned that the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions that the US is seeking could lead to massive lawsuits against the Government:
“The Canadian government is being sued by Eli-Lily to the tune of $500 million dollars – [these are] not theoretical concerns these are actual concerns,” she said.
But it is not just the potential cost of these lawsuits that worries experts, it is the scope for intimidation.
“They have a chilling effect on policymakers whether to pursue certain policies [like plain packaging] that are creative and forward thinking,” Dr Lopert said.
The TPP would be a dreadful outcome for Australia, and trade minister, Andrew Robb, would be a fool to sign Australia up to it.