Concerns remain for public health as TPP talks conclude

08 October, 2015

The conclusion of the Trans Pacific Partnership was announced with some welcome news for Australian health advocates, but major concerns remain.

"Details are still scarce, but Trade minister Andrew Robb appears to have stood firm and refused to give in to US demands to extend monopolies on costly biologic medicines" said Michael Moore, CEO of the Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA).

"Extending monopolies on expensive treatments for cancer and immune conditions would have meant tens to hundreds of millions in extra expenditure for our Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme each year" said Dr Deborah Gleeson, spokesperson for PHAA.

"Keeping just ten biologics under monopoly in 2013-2014 cost Australian taxpayers over $205 million dollars."

"Agreeing to longer monopolies would be an economic mistake and a health policy disaster" said Moore.

"Minister Robb has made the right decision in refusing the US demand. No deal would make a compromise on access to affordable medicines worth it."

But Moore cautioned that public health experts would need to see the text before being able to evaluate how effectively the complicated provisions for biologics would protect the Australian health system.

"We are also concerned about the potential for the TPP to lock in our current intellectual property settings, preventing us from speeding up access to medicines in future" he said.

While some of the worst elements of the US proposals have been mitigated, the TPP will undoubtedly cause needless suffering and death in the region.

"While Minister Robb may have avoided delaying access to medicines for Australians, we are acutely aware that the TPP's intellectual property chapter is disastrous for access to medicines in developing countries such as Vietnam and Peru" said Gleeson.

PHAA welcomed news that tobacco companies would not be able to use the TPP's investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanism to challenge tobacco control measures, but at the same time expressed concern that safeguards may be too limited to protect other areas of health policy.

"If Australia has agreed to an investor-state dispute settlement clause without water-tight carve outs for health and the environment, US corporations will be able to sue Australian federal, state and territory and local governments in international tribunals over legitimate health and environmental policies" said Moore.

"Our health policies should not be decided through secret trade negotiations, where trade-offs can be made that are not in the interests of the health system or the Australian public" said Moore.

"We will be closely scrutinising the contents of the TPP when they become available, and will campaign to ensure that the Australian Parliament does not pass a deal that compromises health."