As 16 countries negotiating the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement meet next week in Kobe, Japan, for the seventeenth round of negotiations, civil society and patient groups, including the international medical humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), are appealing to the Japanese and South Korean governments to withdraw harmful proposals that will restrict people’s access to affordable generic medicines
The civil society and patient groups stated that while being negotiated behind closed-doors, Japan and South Korea are aggressively pushing for measures in the RCEP agreement that would emphasise stronger pharmaceutical corporation power at the expense of public health, threatening millions of lives globally.
Started in May 2013, the RCEP is being negotiated between the 10 ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries and six trading partners, Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea.
“Japan has been advocating for the need to address high drug prices and the need for access to affordable treatment at the UN and G7; but the tougher intellectual property provisions it has been negotiating for in RCEP go against that,” said Jeremie Bodin, General Director, MSF Japan. “One of the proposals would lengthen patent monopolies that will lead to unaffordable drug prices for a longer time, while also undermining fragile health care systems and stifling the patient-centred research and development required to address emerging public health challenges.”
The intellectual property provisions initiated by Japan and South Korea go far beyond the requirements needed under international trade rules. The proposed provisions seek to extend pharmaceutical corporations’ patent terms beyond the usual 20 years, and also would require data exclusivity that limits competition – even for improved formulations of older medicines that do not deserve a patent.
Equally disturbing is the proposed investment chapter which raises the risks of the Indian and ASEAN governments being sued by pharmaceutical corporations for millions of dollars in secret tribunal – outside of domestic courts for regulating the IP system and controlling drug prices in public interest. All of these provisions are similar to those included in the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement, which MSF and many others branded as the worst trade deal ever for access to medicines.
“The worst intellectual property provisions of the TPP have been introduced through the backdoor by Japan in the RCEP negotiations. Measures like patent term extensions and data exclusivity are another form of ‘evergreening’ monopolies on older medicines, which allows a deadly delay to the introduction of generic competition and expand the power of pharmaceutical corporations to charge exorbitant prices,” said Leena Menghaney, Head-South Asia, MSF Access Campaign.
“The RCEP negotiators must protect existing public health safeguards that enable developing countries like India to keep supplying the life-saving affordable medicines needed to treat millions of people worldwide.”