Senior academics in health & medicine speak out against trade agreement

MEDIA RELEASE: Public Health Association of Australia

Senior academics in health & medicine speak out against trade agreement

Around fifty senior Australian academics with expertise in public health and medicine have joined forces to express concerns about the current negotiations for the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA). Key decisions will impact on the cost of medicines and health measures that reduce alcohol and tobacco use in Australia. The academics have joined forces to appeal to the Australian Government Health Minister to intervene to protect Australian interests and not to sell out to commercial interests Australia’s sovereign rights to protect health.

“We understand that the twelve countries negotiating the TPPA have set a target to conclude the agreement by the end of 2013. The secrecy of the negotiations makes it is difficult to know what is being discussed – what are they hiding?” asks Professor Heather Yeatman, President of the Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA).

The group is deeply concerned that provisions proposed for the TPPA include:
Intellectual property provisions that would expand patent monopolies, delay the availability of generic medicines and increase the cost of medicines for taxpayers and the public;
Procedural changes to our Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme that would prevent the use of effective pricing mechanisms, create new avenues of appeal and new opportunities for pharmaceutical industry influence over decision making;
An investor-state dispute settlement clause that will give new rights to foreign corporations (such as tobacco companies) to sue our government in international tribunals over its public health and environmental policies and laws;
Rules for labelling wine and spirits that could prevent Australia from mandating health warnings on the principal front or back label on an alcohol container; and
Provisions for proprietary formulas that may limit government’s future options for food labelling.

“We are also concerned about developing countries in our region, particularly the effects the US proposals for intellectual property would have on access to medicines in countries like Vietnam, Malaysia and Peru. Since the text has not been disclosed, we are concerned about provisions that pose risks to public health. There is no opportunity for open scrutiny prior to finalisation,” said Professor Yeatman.

The group is calling on the Australian Government to:
• Reject the extreme proposals of the US for intellectual property and support the efforts of other countries to negotiate provisions that will protect access to medicines;
• Continue to reject provisions that would affect the ability of the PBS to effectively regulate medicine prices, ensure affordable access and obtain value for money;
• Continue to insist on an exemption to the investor-state dispute mechanism; and
• Retain domestic flexibility in all areas of the agreement to protect and promote public health and the environment.

“On 4 December, the Australian Senate made an order for the release of the text of the TPPA before it is signed by Cabinet. We are urging the Government to honour the Senate order and make the text available for public scrutiny well before the TPPA is signed,” said Professor Yeatman.

The full letter to Minister Dutton – signed by 44 senior academics – is available at: