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Trade Agreement Negotiations Could Hurt U.S. Efforts To Ensure Global Access To Essential Medicines

“Through their engagement, and their tax dollars, Americans help millions of disadvantaged people around the world by providing access to medical care and essential drugs,” Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.), who is a physician and co-chair of the Congressional HIV/AIDS Caucus, writes in a Roll Call opinion piece. “Unfortunately, we are also currently negotiating sweeping international trade agreements that may curtail our ability to continue helping the poorest of the poor,” he continues, noting, “The Trans-Pacific Partnership [TPP] is being negotiated right now.” He states, “With America’s record of global health leadership in mind, I am troubled by what may happen to access to medicines for the poor around the world as a result of our new trade agreements,” adding, “The critical intellectual property provisions of the pact should protect inventors and developers of breakthrough innovations, but they cannot be so restrictive that they cost millions of lives in less developed countries.”

“At the beginning of TPP negotiations two years ago, for reasons that are unclear, the U.S. asked the other 10 countries to accept new and very rigid intellectual property measures that would greatly limit availability of the affordable generic medicines that the success of U.S.-supported global health programs require,” McDermott continues. “The United States is currently party to many international agreements that include strong intellectual property protections,” but “the U.S.’ current TPP proposal on medicines upends the present well-structured balance by extending monopoly protections much further,” he writes, detailing several provisions within the proposal. “Global health, innovation and access to medicines are top priorities for many members of Congress and should be for this administration,” McDermott writes, adding, “A TPP agreement that exacerbates already-delayed access to generic medicines is unacceptable.” He concludes, “TPP has been called a ’21st Century Agreement,’ but it will be anything but fresh if it makes crucial medicines even scarcer throughout the developing nations of the world” (5/31).