Suspension of intellectual property provisions in the TPP is a great step towards a progressive trade agenda, but it needs to stay out.
Last week, Trudeau signed the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement (CPTPP, also called TPP11), and all reports indicate that the most controversial portions of the agreements’ intellectual property (IP) chapter have been suspended. This is a win for access to medicines, and a positive step towards Trudeau’s progressive trade agenda. As students in a variety of fields that impact health, Universities Allied for Essential Medicines (UAEM) welcomes the decision to suspend the intellectual property chapter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
The initial version of the CPTPP, the TPP, would have imposed stringent US-style patent and copyright protections, of which the United States (US) had been the primary proponent. The agreement would have effectively extended patents, lowered the bar to patentability, delayed market approval for generic medication and increased barriers to making generic version of biologics (a new wave of drugs that have been particularly expensive). These provisions would have delayed the entry of generic medication on the market, making medicines less accessible and affordable for Canadians. Low and middle income countries in the CPTPP would have been especially hard hit by these rules, since the TPP’s IP chapter differs substantially from their existing patent laws. As a result, the TPP would have made medication less affordable in all TPP countries. Many advocacy groups concerned with access to life-saving medicines, including UAEM, Médecins Sans Frontière/Doctors Without Borders and the Canadian Labour Congress, vehemently opposed these provisions.
Nevertheless, these IP provisions have been suspended in the new CPTPP, not entirely removed. This means that they could be re-enacted, if parties to the agreement agreed to do so. In all likelihood, this is because parties hope that the US will decide to join the TPP at a later date. The suspended provisions are there to sweeten the pot for a US return. It must be stressed that the IP provisions should not be reinstated. It is clearly not in the best interest of Canadians’ health, to reinstate these provisions, .nor in the interest of the other 11 signatories’ citizens.
During the CPTPP negotiations, Canada became a leader in pushing against strong intellectual property provisions in the TPP. Canada’s position was bold and ultimately successful in pushing for an agreement that was in the best interests of Canadians. This is a trade agreement that does not sacrifice Canadians’ health, and is a better deal for the Canadian economy, It is important that our government continue to push strongly against these strong intellectual property provisions as we renegotiate NAFTA, and explore trade agreements with China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
While UAEM welcomes the suspension of the IP chapter, Trudeau’s work towards a progressive trade agenda is far from complete. If Trudeau is serious about creating a progressive trade agenda, IP provisions in trade agreements cannot continue to impede access to medicines — Canadians’ lives depends on it.
Gaëlle Groux is a graduate student at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs (NPSIA) and a law student at the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law. She is a member of the North American Coordinating Committee of Universities Allied for Essential Medicines (UAEM).
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