Global Trends

Published: Monday July 1, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Monday July 1, 2013 MYT 10:08:04 AM

TPPA affecting health policies?

The present debate on the TPPA in Malaysia is part of the global discussion on how trade and investment treaties are affecting health, including access to medicines and tobacco control.

ARE big companies making use of trade and investment agreements to challenge health policies? Evidence is building up that they do so, with medicine prices going up and tobacco control measures being suppressed.

This issue came up in Parliament last week when International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Mustapha Mohamed said the Government would not allow the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) to cause the prices of generic medicines to go up.

He added he would defend existing policies on patents and medicines and if we don’t agree with some of the terms, we can choose not to sign it.

Trade agreements and health concerns are linked because some companies selling tobacco, medicines and food are using these agreements to sue governments that introduce new regulations to safeguard public health.

Malaysia will host the next round of the TPPA negotiations this month, so the debate on these issues can be expected to continue.

The World Health Organisation’s Director-General Dr Margaret Chan recently noted that corporate interests are preventing health measures.

The cost of non-communicable diseases are shooting up. The costs for advanced cancer care are unsustainable, even in rich nations and some countries spend 15% of the health budget on diabetes.

“In the developing world, the cost of these diseases can easily cancel out the benefits of economic gain,” she said. It is harder to get people to adopt healthy lifestyles because of opposition by “unfriendly forces”.

“Efforts to prevent non-communicable diseases go against business interests. These are powerful economic operators. It is not just Big Tobacco anymore. Public health must also contend with Big Food, Big Soda and Big Alcohol. All of these industries fear regulation and protect themselves by using the same tactics,” said Dr Chan.

Those tactics include “front groups, lobbies, promises of self-regulation, lawsuits and industry funded research that confuses the evidence and keeps the public in doubt”.

Many studies show how trade agreements with the United States or Europe have raised the prices of medicines because of the constraints placed by the FTA’s strict patent rules on the sale of cheaper generic medicines. Patients have had to switch to costlier branded medicines.

One study estimated that Colombia would need to spend an extra US$1.5bil (RM4.74bil) a year on medicines by 2030 or people would have to reduce medicine consumption by 44% by that year.

“Data exclusivity”, one of the features of the FTA, has delayed the introduction of cheaper generic versions of 79% of medicines launched by 21 multinational companies between 2002 and mid-2006 and, ultimately, the higher medicine prices are threatening the financial sustainability of government health programmes.

The tobacco industry is also making use of trade and investment agreements to challenge governments’ tobacco control measures.

According to an article by Prof Mathew Porterfield of Georgetown University Law Centre, the company Philip Morris has asked the US government to use the TPPA to limit restrictions on tobacco marketing.

In comments submitted to the US trade representative (USTR) , Philip Morris argued that Australia’s plain packaging regulations would be “tantamount to expropriation” of its intellectual property rights, and complained of the broad authority delegated to Singapore’s Health Minister to restrict tobacco marketing.

In order to address these “excessive legislative proposals”, Philip Morris urged USTR to pursue both strong protections for intellectual property and inclusion of the investor-state dispute settlement mechanism in the TPPA.

The company has instituted legal cases against Uruguay and Australia for requiring that cigarette boxes have “plain packaging”, with the companies’ names and logos disallowed.

These cases are under bilateral investment agreements. The company claims that the packaging regulations violate its right to use its trademark, and also violate the agreement’s principle of “fair and equitable treatment”.

It claims that a change in government regulation that affects its profits and property is an “expropriation” for which it should be compensated.

Under such agreements, companies have sued governments for millions or even billions of dollars.

The provisions in the bilateral investment treaties are also present in trade agreements including the TPPA. Companies can directly sue the governments in an international court, under an investor-state dispute system.

Having been sued by the tobacco company for its health measure, the Australian government has decided not to enter any more agreements that have an investor-state dispute system.

In the TPPA negotiations, Australia has asked that it be granted an exemption from that agreement’s investor-state dispute system. So far, such an exemption has not been agreed to.

The controversies over how trade and investment agreements are threatening health policies will not go away, because the rules are still in place and new treaties like the TPPA are coming into being.

A “Google search” on this issue will yield hundreds, in fact, many thousands of documents. And the number will go up as long as the controversy continues.

Tags / Keywords: Opinion

More Articles

Filter by

In the aftermath of the attacks

23 November 2015

The world was shocked and rocked by the terror in Paris last week. How to make sense of it, and will a successful Paris conference offset the gloom?

China’s boost to South cooperation

9 November 2015

Two new Chinese funds totalling US$5.1bil to help developing countries tackle climate change and development problems could be a game changer in South-South cooperation and international relations.

Counting down to climate meeting

26 October 2015

Much is expected of the important Paris conference, but so many huge differences remain among the countries and time is running out.

Debate on TPPA will continue

12 October 2015

Although the TPPA negotiations have concluded, the text is not yet made public, and the debate on its effects and implications will go on.

Trapped by haze – how long more?

28 September 2015

Vulnerable groups are frustrated that their health is being compromised, thus top political priority should now be given to stop this annual crisis.

When so many lives are at stake

14 September 2015

A drug that can cure Hepatitis C could cost a Malaysian patient RM385,000 for a course, while a similar treatment costs less than RM4,000 in India. Can anything be done about this?

Economy facing its greatest test

31 August 2015

TODAY marks the completion of 58 years of Merdeka. On the economy, there is much to be proud of, with nearly six decades of generally good growth.

Need to tackle economic woes

17 August 2015

The ringgit’s slide is a symptom of weaknesses in the Malaysian economy. Policy actions must now be taken to address the serious problems.

Decide soon on the TPPA signing

3 August 2015

IT’S been a very long race, but the finishing line is now fast approaching. The Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement negotiations are coming to an end, with the Ministers meeting in Hawaii last week to wrap up outstanding issues.

New chapter in Greek tragedy

20 July 2015

When a country mismanages its debt, it can lose its sovereignty and dignity – a lesson imposed on Greece again.


Recent Posts

More Columnists