Home' Australian Pharmacist : Australian Pharmacist February 2012 Contents Australian Pharmacist February 2012 I ©Pharmaceutical Society of Australia Ltd. 95
Australia will host negotiations for the
next Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement
(TPPA), a regional free trade agreement
with the US and seven other Pacific nations,
in Melbourne next month.
The Australian Government says the TPPA
is its highest regional trade negotiation
priority, though it's difficult to see why,
given the way the US has treated us under
previous free trade agreements (FTAs).
Back in 2004 the Howard Government's
bi-partisan FTA with the US only served to
double Australia's trade deficit with that
country in the first three years. Just ask
DFAT, which worked out the figures.
At the time Canberra Commentary warned
of the pitfalls because, it became apparent
from Freedom of Information searches, the
US wanted to use the agreement to try and
muscle in on our PBS, using the AUSFTA
Medicines Working Group as a forum for
lobbying by US negotiators. The ANU's
Professor Tom Faunce spoke out then about
the potential for injustice, though US Trade
Representative Robert Zoellick denied it.
Now the TPPA has taken centre stage, more
academics are warning of the pitfalls of our
'free trade' with the US, and they have as
their evidence leaked TPPA documents that
reveal the aims of our American friends.
Mark Thornton is a Canberra-based journalist and
was a member of the Federal Parliamentary Press
Gallery for many years. Any opinions expressed are
not necessarily those of PSA, its Board or staff.
Free trade talks --
read the fine print
By Mark Thornton
We only ever find out about this stuff through
leaks because all negotiations are secret.
Dr Deborah Gleeson, a Research Fellow in
the School of Public Health and Human
Biosciences at La Trobe University, told
Canberra Commentary there are two
chapters in the TPPA with implications for
pharmaceuticals and intellectual property
rights, which would make medicines more
expensive. Documents covering these
chapters were leaked in February 2011 and
then again in October last year.
'They show the US is seeking to use the
agreement to increase the patent monopoly
rights of pharmaceutical companies
and undermine the effectiveness of
pharmaceutical reimbursement programs
such as Australia's Pharmaceutical Benefits
Scheme,' Dr Gleeson says.
'Proposed provisions would also lower
patent standards and remove public rights
to object to new patents before they
What's more, there is an annexe to the
agreement which introduces appeals
provisions for drug companies to challenge
Australian decisions about PBS listings.
'It also means Australia would have to
allow these companies to advertise their
wares direct to consumers on the internet,
which they're not allowed to do now,'
Dr Gleeson says.
She points out that this notion was first
introduced into the 2004 USFTA, though
then Australia wrote a counter clause into
the agreement saying that if the proposal
was counter to a nation's own laws, which it
was and still is, the country could reject it.
Now it's there again. And the problem with
that is, because the negotiations are secret,
we don't know what our government might
feel obliged to trade off for something
'Things can be traded away for market
access,' Dr Gleeson says. 'They may seem
small at the time but will have a big impact
on the cost of medicines.'
However, in our government's defence,
in April last year it declared in a Trade
Policy Statement it would not accept any
provisions in trade that compromised
Nonetheless, Dr Gleeson praised whoever
leaked the TPPA information because
the public should know, rather than just
hope, their government is acting in their
'What is happening behind closed doors
should be revealed to the public because
adopting US proposals for pharmaceuticals
and intellectual property in the TPPA would
undermine access to affordable medicines
in Australia,' she says.
Dr Russell Marks, politics lecturer at
La Trobe, is concerned about 'free' trade
agreements per se because they put the
most powerful negotiator in a position to
exploit the lesser ones.
'One major aim of free trade agreements
is to compel governments to remove
themselves from their role as regulators,
and to allow 'market forces' to determine
what is produced and consumed where, by
whom and at what price,' Dr Marks recently
wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald.
'Historically, the US has used its relative
economic and political power to secure
"free trade" deals that benefit it at the
expense of its trading "partners". This can
most clearly be seen in America's attempts
to reclassify other governments' public
interest policies as forms of economic
protectionism, which must be abandoned
under the rules of "free trade" agreements.'
Despite its rhetoric, the US has never
championed the public's right to know,
which is why it has screamed so loudly
about the Wiki and other leaks that reveal
its true colours.
Dr Gleeson is right to issue a clarion call for
the substance of free trade agreements to
be available for public scrutiny and debate.
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