Last November, Plus ran an expose on how the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) free-trade treaty could have a seriously negative impact on the global effort to quell the HIV epidemic. Activist efforts to stop the treaty were hampered by the intense secrecy around the document’s text. With TPP labeled classified material by the White House, even Congress wasn’t allowed to review what would become international law and potentially over-ride local protections.
Material released on Wikileaks led Doctors Without Borders, amfAR and others to argue that the treaty would leave LGBT people unprotected, dramatically raise the cost of HIV medication, and delay or eliminate generic options.
Now that TPP has been signed by the heads of states and the wording has been revealed, we asked a couple of activists whether things are as bad as we expected.
“With the final language of the TPP now public and the agreement signed by all parties,” Executive Director of Pride at Work, Jerame Davis tells us. "It is clear that the concerns of LGBT people and those living with HIV/AIDS were completely ignored."
In particular, Davis points to nations like Brunei and Malaysia’s inclusion in the treaty. Brunei has adopted Sharia law, including the practice of stoning to death those who engage in same-sex relations and severe punishment for transgender people (who are considered "crossdressers").
The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative told Huffington Post, “we have made clear that protecting human rights — including the rights of LGBT individuals, women, and religious minorities — is a core U.S. value and a foreign policy priority."
That's all well and good, Davis retorts, but, “Despite repeated promises from the Administration to the contrary, neither the main text nor any of the side agreements address LGBT issues in any way.” To the contrary, “There are absolutely no provisions in the agreement to protect LGBT people in any of the countries party to the deal and none of the known human rights abusing countries, like Brunei and Malaysia, face any sort of accountability.”
“Looking beyond the lack of human rights protections, as we feared in the lead up to the release of the final text, the TPP includes provisions for extending the patents on biologically derived medicines,” Davis adds, noting, “Many of the current, most effective treatments for HIV/AIDS fall into this category of drugs [biologics].”
These patents are what allows pharmaceutical companies to maintain exclusive control over the production of a particular medication, preventing the creation of generics and keeping prices high.
“Longer exclusivity periods,” Davis explains, “drive up the costs of these drugs for everyone by denying generic manufacturers the ability to offer lower cost versions to compete with the brand name drug.”
As Public Citizen’s director of access to medicines and knowledge economy group, Peter Maybarduk works to helps partners around the world overcome high-price pharmaceutical monopolies. He too was concerned about the new powers pharmaceutical companies might gain under the leaked TPP language.
Now, he says, “versus seven months ago, the core dispute has not changed, though some particular provisions have. Countries fought back, to a degree, against Big Pharma and the U.S. government, as they had since 2010, and saw some further harmful provisions removed.”
Despite those efforts, Maybarduk acknowledges, “In the end TPP was signed with rules that expand pharmaceutical monopoly power: patent term extensions, additions to exclusivity periods, patents for new uses of old medicines, special exclusivity periods for biologic drugs, and more opportunities for pharmaceutical companies to meddle in public program listing decisions for medicine pricing and reimbursement.”
The signing by 12 world leaders may have been a climatic moment for proponents of TPP, but activists opposed to it insist the fight isn’t over yet.
New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, may have validated that perspective when he spoke at the signing ceremony in Auckland, admitting the agreement "is still just a piece of paper — or rather over 16,000 pieces of paper — until it actually comes into force."
That’s because, Reuters reports, TPP now must undergo a two-year ratification period in which the six countries of the biggest players in the agreement (including the U.S.) must approve the final text before the treaty is ratified and becomes law.
Acknowledging “the many activists who have fought back [and] helped reduce the agreement’s potential harms, and thereby saved lives,” Maybarduk says there’s more work to be done. As is, he says, “TPP would still contribute to preventable suffering and death, including potentially for people living with HIV, and perhaps for decades to come. It remains quite important that we stop TPP in the votes.”
Davis agrees, adding, “We cannot allow the race to the bottom for global profit halt our progress in containing and fighting back against the HIV/AIDS pandemic.”