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It is reported that Stalin said, "The death of one person is a tragedy; the death of a million people is a statistic." Today, a latter-day Stalin might say: "The death of four Yemeni civilians in a U.S. drone strike is a tragedy; the death of a million people because we let brand-name drug companies own U.S. 'trade policy' would be a statistic."

Right now, in Leesburg, Virginia, the office of U.S. Trade Representative is negotiating a so-called "trade agreement" - the "Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement" - that could put the lives of millions of innocent civilians at risk. The process is secret: USTR refuses to publish a draft negotiating text, so any American who isn't cleared by USTR to see the text can't say for sure exactly what USTR is doing right now.

I put the phrase "trade agreement" in quotation marks because calling these deals "trade agreements" is fundamentally misleading for many people. The phrase "trade agreement" suggests to some that governments are only talking about "lowering barriers to trade." If you call it a "trade agreement," some people might think, "that doesn't concern me very much. I'll go check to see if Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are still married instead." If you called it "an agreement to raise drug prices so people you care about can't get life-saving medicines," more people might think, "I better pay attention to this. I can catch up with Brangelina later."

Bloomberg reports:

Transparency has become an issue of the Pacific-region talks, with consumer, labor and environmental groups siding with some U.S. lawmakers who want participants to make their positions public. U.S. officials have said they will hold a public comment period and congressional review after talks are complete [my emphasis], in line with their policy for recent trade deals including those with Colombia, Panama and South Korea.
That's cold comfort, because "after talks are complete," as a practical matter it's almost impossible to change such agreements. If you don't have input before "talks are complete," then as a practical matter you have no effective input.  

But because there was a previous leak of the intellectual property claims chapter of the draft negotiating text, people who have followed these issues closely have some idea of what USTR has been doing on our dime.

What we can say with confidence is this: in an agreement that USTR hopes will eventually cover 40% of the world's population, the negotiating position of USTR has reneged on previous commitments the U.S. government has made to promote the ability of governments to pursue public health goals in "trade agreements," rather than undermining the ability of governments to pursue public health goals.

And regardless of anything else, that fact alone should be a national scandal. When, at long last, you nail acknowledgement of a fundamental human right to the wall, it should stay nailed there. We shouldn't have to fight USTR on access to essential medicines every time they negotiate a new "trade deal." USTR should cry uncle on this for all time, no matter how much money brand-name drug companies spend on lobbying and political campaigns.  

In August 2012, Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders noted that the 19th International AIDS Conference "illuminated the profound contradiction" between the U.S. government's goal of "an AIDS-free generation" and "some of the U.S. government’s trade policies." MSF noted the need to make antiretroviral therapy available to "more than 7 million people still in need of urgent treatment." To achieve this, MSF said, "antiretroviral drugs need to be available at affordable prices." But, MSF said, USTR is "promoting restrictive trade policies that would make it much harder for patients, governments and treatment providers like MSF to access price-lowering generic drugs."

Leaked drafts of the TPP agreement, MSF said, "outline U.S. aggressive intellectual property demands that that could severely restrict access to affordable, life-saving medicines for millions of people… the U.S. is asking countries to create new, enhanced and longer patent and data monopoly protections for multinational pharmaceutical companies so they can keep competitors out of the market and charge higher prices for longer."

Affordable generic medicines have played a crucial role in expanding access to treatment, MSF noted. But:

demand for newer HIV treatments is growing fast… Access to these ARV drugs will largely be contingent on the same price-busting generic competition responsible for the first wave of AIDS treatment scale up. The TPP’s provisions, aimed at creating stronger and longer monopolies and making it more difficult to use legal tools to promote access to generics, could cut off access to these lifesaving medicines for millions.
Do you think that "public comment" and "congressional review" of an agreement that "could cut off access to these lifesaving medicines for millions" should wait until after the agreement is signed, when, in practical terms, the prospects for changing the agreement would be near zero?

Do you think it's intrinsically offensive that USTR - public employees whose salaries you pay through your taxes, and who are using as their negotiating leverage access to U.S. markets, including your consumer dollars - would press other countries to agree to such policies, regardless of whether the other countries resist or cave?

Do you think that USTR should cry uncle on the issue of access to essential medicines for all time?

If you think you might have an opinion on this at some point, the time to make some noise is now. Later may be too late. One place you can make some noise is here.

Robert Naiman is Policy Director at Just Foreign Policy.

Poll

"Public comment" & "congressional review" of a deal that "could cut off access to lifesaving medicines for millions" shouldn't wait til after the agreement is signed, when the prospects for changing the agreement are near zero.

100%12 votes
0%0 votes

| 12 votes | Vote | Results

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Comment Preferences

  •  your title is misleading and your points are (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    FG

    unclear.  i suggest a serious edit here - you seem to have some valid information that could be better expressed without the hyperbole.

  •  furthermore, we don't have a government by (0+ / 0-)

    public opinion (as you seem to want to have from this statement).

    Do you think it's intrinsically offensive that USTR - public employees whose salaries you pay through your taxes, and who are using as their negotiating leverage access to U.S. markets, including your consumer dollars - would press other countries to agree to such policies, regardless of whether the other countries resist or cave?
    just in case you HAVEN'T notices, a large segment of our nation is comprised of low information voters, rabid bigots and republicans.

    for THIS reason, who we elect to the white house matters - the person who appoints diplomats, negotiators, etc., had damned well better be a democrat instead of a republican if we want our best interests represented.

    you make a whole lot of accusations and very little sense of what you actually want.  if i read you correctly, i am much more comfortable with the trade negotiators than i would be with your plan in charge!

    •  re: we don't have a government by public opinion (0+ / 0-)

      No, we do not have a government by public opinion, in the sense that on any particular decision, our elected representatives - the President and the Congress - are free to ignore public opinion if they wish. Nonetheless, in a representative democracy, ignoring public opinion is supposed to be politically costly. If the political cost of ignoring public opinion is zero, there's a good case that you don't live in any kind of democracy.

      I voted for Obama, I worked for Obama, and I gave money to Obama's campaign. On some issues, I'm happy with Obama. On other issues, I'm not happy with Obama. "Trade" is one of the issues I'm not happy with Obama on. That doesn't mean I won't support his re-election; I will. But it does mean that I have the right and the obligation to speak up on the issues where I disagree, because that's the only way those policies are going to change.

      There are parts of the U.S. government that really turn over when you elect a new President: Labor, EPA, for example. And there are other parts of the government that don't really turn over. USTR is one of them, I'm sorry to say. "Trade" is one of the issues where you can't expect a new policy just because you elect a new President. You still need to fight if you want to be heard.

  •  Your title is misleading to the point of being (0+ / 0-)

    HRable. I will refrain from doing so b/c the diary is quite substantive.

    On the issues, most drugs that violate US patents are made in India anyway due to peculiarities in its patent laws. India is not a party to the talks.

  •  Your position would be better served by a diary (0+ / 0-)

    that actually made sense.

    Where are we, now that we need us most?

    by Frank Knarf on Mon Sep 10, 2012 at 06:02:25 PM PDT

  •  Agree the title is foolish (0+ / 0-)

    But the substance of the diary, beyond the silly hyperbole, is rather persuasive.  It really hurts your cause to frame the issue in such extremist terms.

    Yet it is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succour of those years wherein we are set... -- Gandalf

    by dnta on Mon Sep 10, 2012 at 06:32:13 PM PDT

    •  really? (0+ / 0-)

      do you dispute that a million lives could be at stake?

      If you dispute this, please say why.

      If you do not dispute this, please explain where the "silly hyperbole" and "extremist terms" are.

      •  You really don't see it? (0+ / 0-)

        You really think that a trade agreement which drives up the cost of medicine is perfectly equivalent to military drone attacks on a million people?  No nuance of a difference?  No slight exaggeration for dramatic effect?

        If you don't get it, I really can't help you.

        Yet it is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succour of those years wherein we are set... -- Gandalf

        by dnta on Mon Sep 10, 2012 at 11:21:06 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

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