The last two Trouble with the TPP posts have focused on the agreement’s investor-state dispute settlement provisions, noting that they do not meet the standard set by the Canadian government in CETA and do not address key concerns over policy making as raised in the Bilcon case. The risks associated with ISDS rules are far more than just the subject of academic or legal debate. Experience shows that the cases can place billions of tax dollars at risk, threatening to wipe out the supposed “gains” created by trade deals.
The current legal battle between the Canadian government and international pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly provides an illustration of what can happen when ISDS rules go wrong. In the early 1990s, the company applied for patent protection in Canada for two chemical compounds, olanzapine and atomoxetine. The company had already obtained patents over the compounds, but asserted that it had evidence to support new uses for the compounds that merited further protection. The Canadian patent office granted the patents based on the content in the applications, but they remained subject to challenge.
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The Canadian Chamber of Commerce has been one of the most vocal supporters of the TPP and intellectual property reform. It recently waded into the case that most clearly crystallizes the dangers of trade and IP in Canada: the Eli Lilly claim for compensation from Canadian taxpayers for hundreds of millions of dollars due to a pair of patent law decisions. Most patent experts believe that Canada has a strong defence, yet that has not stopped the foreign pharmaceutical company from seeking $500 million in damages.
Last month, several groups submitted amicus briefs to the dispute resolution panel, including one from the Canadian Chamber of Commerce (there is also a submission from CIPPIC and the Centre for Intellectual Property Policy). The Chamber suggests that declining spending in research and development may be due to legal uncertainty, despite years of declining research and development expenditures by international pharmaceutical companies in Canada that predates the Eli Lilly issue. The brief saves the money quote until the last paragraph:
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The Trouble with the TPP series now shifts to patent law reforms and the likely costs to the health care system (prior posts include Day 1: US Blocks Balancing Provisions, Day 2: Locking in Digital Locks, Day 3: Copyright Term Extension, Day 4: Copyright Notice and Takedown Rules, Day 5: Rights Holders “Shall” vs. Users “May”, Day 6: Price of Entry). The TPP patent provision changes are very significant since they lock Canada into extending the term of patent protection, which will ultimately increase health care costs. Moreover, global organizations such Doctors Without Borders has warned that the agreement will raise the price of medicines for millions of people, particularly in the developing world.
The Conservative government tried to downplay the impact of patent law changes in the TPP, arguing that the agreement is consistent with current law or is “in line with outcomes secured in the Canada – EU Comprehensive Trade and Economic Agreement (CETA)”. The reference to CETA, which comes from the government’s TPP IP summary, represents a neat of sleight of hand.
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Late last month, Canada joined eleven other countries including the United States, Japan, and Australia in Hawaii for what many experts expected would be the final round of negotiations on the Trans Pacific Partnership. According to media reports, the Canadian government was among those expecting the talks on the proposed trade deal that covers nearly 40 per cent of world GDP to conclude, with officials lining up the corporate community to immediately express their support for the agreement.
However, negotiators left Hawaii empty handed, as disputes over intellectual property laws, safeguards and tariffs for the dairy and sugar industries, as well as disagreement over the auto sector, could not be resolved. With Canada plunged into an election campaign hours later, the government sought to assure its TPP partners that it could continue to negotiate even while acting in a “caretaker” capacity.
My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that while those negotiations are expected to resume in the weeks ahead, sources advise that Canada dropped numerous demands on key patent and copyright issues in Hawaii, likely in the mistaken belief that a concluded deal was imminent. Indeed, after withholding agreement on critical issues such as anti-patent trolling rules, website blocking, restrictions on digital locks, trademark classification, and border enforcement, Canadian negotiators caved to U.S. pressure but failed to garner agreement.
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This past weekend was a busy one politically as Canada was launched into a lengthy election campaign just as countries negotiating the latest round of Trans Pacific Partnership negotiations in Hawaii failed to conclude a deal. With reports that there may be a follow-up ministerial meeting within weeks, Canadian officials have been quick to claim that the election campaign will not interfere with the TPP trade talks.
To support the claim that the government is permitted to continue negotiating even when it is a “caretaker” government, the Privy Council Office yesterday released a document titled Guidelines on the Conduct of Ministers, Ministers of State, Exempt Staff and Public Servants During an Election. In previous elections, this document was not publicly released, leading Liberal MP Ted Hsu to table a motion in 2011 calling for its availability and to recent op-eds raising the same concern.
Why the sudden change of heart? Perhaps it has something to do with the desire to release this paragraph:
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