Critics say U.S. is going too far to protect drug companies in trade talks

Posted by Rob Hotakainen on November 13, 2013 

Critics fear the U.S. is going too far to protect drug companies in trade talks, which will make it harder to fight AIDS in poor counties. Here, Paula Cannon, associate professor of molecular microbiology and immunology at the Keck School of Medicine, inspects a mouse infected with HIV for study at a medical research lab on the USC Medical School campus in Los Angeles.


Assessment based on new documents published by WikiLeaks.

Critics of a plan to expand trade in the Pacific Rim today accused the Obama administration of pushing terms that would benefit U.S. pharmaceutical companies while raising drug prices.

"The Obama administration's proposals are the worst --- the most damaging for health --- we have seen in a U.S. trade agreement to date," said Peter Maybarduk, director of Public Citizen's global access to medicines program. "The Obama administration has backtracked from even the modest health considerations adopted under the Bush administration."

While the trade talks are private, Public Citizen said it had analyzed new documents published by WikiLeaks.

The documents include U.S. proposals covering intellectual property rights in the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership, which could become the largest trade deal in U.S. history. It involves 11 other countries.

Negotiators are trying to resolve a dispute over how long to provide protections to drug companies.

Drug companies last year urged U.S. negotiators to grant them 12 years of "data exclusivity," the same standard in current U.S. law. They contend that's necessary because it would allow them to sell without competition from generic drug manufacturers while they attempt to recoup their investment.

Critics say it would drive-up the costs and make it harder to fight AIDS in developing countries.

"Our partners don't want to trade away their people's health. Americans don't want these measures either," Maybarduk said.

Last week, the AARP and other consumer groups wrote a letter to the Obama administration saying the U.S. proposals would "limit the ability of states and the federal government to moderate escalating prescription drug, biologic drug and medical device costs in public programs."

At the same time, the administration faces pressure to protect jobs created by the drug industry.

Last year, in a letter spearheaded by Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington state and Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, the two veteran members of the Senate Finance Committee said that "a robust knowledge economy" had given the U.S. one of its biggest competitive advantages.

"Put bluntly, intellectual property equals jobs," they said in the letter, which was signed by 28 senators.

While the Obama administration says the negotiations are nearing an end, critics say there's much work yet to be done.

Maybarduk noted that there are more than 100 unresolved issues dealing with intellectual property alone.

"Given how much text remains disputed, the negotiation will be very difficult to conclude," said Maybarduk.


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