The government’s public consultation on the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) has stopped in Vancouver, Calgary, and Montreal in recent weeks as a growing number of people speak out on the agreement. Tens of thousands have also written to the government on the issue with some beginning to consider trade strategy alternatives.
My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) argues that the interest in other trade options stems from three developments. First, the TPP may not have sufficient support to take effect since under the terms of agreement both Japan and the United States must be among the ratifying countries. Implementation has been delayed in Japan where politicians fear a political backlash and seems increasingly unlikely in the U.S., where the remaining presidential candidates have tried to outdo one another in their opposition to the deal.
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Critics of trade agreements such as the TPP and the Canada-EU Trade Agreement has emphasized that a key concern is that deals will lead to increased costs for pharmaceutical drugs. At a recent Standing Committee on Health hearing on the development of a national pharmacare program, officials with Health Canada confirmed that they expect prices to increase but remain unsure about how much (hat tip: Blacklock’s Reporter). The exchange came from questions by NDP MP Don Davies:
Mr. Davies: Canada has just signed two trade deals, CETA and the TPP, which have new intellectual property provisions. All the literature and opinions I’ve read indicate that this will delay the introduction of generics to market for some time. I’m seeing estimates of two years as about what it’s going to take. Ms. Hoffman, has the department done some analysis on the likely impact of TPP and CETA, and is it true that those trade deals will likely increase the prices that Canadians pay for pharmaceuticals and add a little bit of mud to that already dirty picture?
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Today is World IP Day, which marks the creation of the World Intellectual Property Organization. Canadian policy has long preferred the use of international bodies like WIPO to advance its IP objectives, yet the intellectual property provisions in recently concluded trade deals such as the TPP and CETA run counter to Canadian strategy. That isn’t just the opinion of the many critics of those agreements. It is what government officials told International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland as part of her briefing materials.
The briefing document on intellectual property and the trade agenda, released under the Access to Information Act, leaves little doubt that trade officials are well aware that the Canadian position on IP in the TPP is inconsistent with our preferred position and that it will lead to IP trade deficits. The document states:
Canada’s preferred strategy is to establish international IP rules through multilateral forums such as the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and the World Trade Organization (WTO). However, in the context of the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), Canada negotiated trade obligations that, while reflective of recent domestic reforms, are beyond those standards set through multilateral forums, and which will likely require amendments to domestic practice, such as in the areas of geographical indications (GIs) and patent protection for pharmaceuticals.
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Chrystia Freeland, Canada’s International Trade Minister, yesterday unveiled the final legal draft of the Canada – EU Trade Agreement. While CETA is still awaiting translation, Freeland indicated that she hopes the agreement will come into force in 2017. The lengthy delay in arriving at a final legal draft arose from ongoing European opposition to investor-state dispute settlement provisions that many fear may limit governmental regulatory power and lead to expensive corporate lawsuits. The CETA text unveiled yesterday features some notable changes to the ISDS rules, with Canada largely acquiescing to European demands.
The ISDS changes raise in CETA at least two points that are relevant for TPP purposes. First, claims that completed trade agreements are non-negotiable and cannot be changed simply isn’t true. CETA was completed years ago, yet political demands for changes to the ISDS rules led all parties to go back to the bargaining table to work out a new system. While Freeland called the changes “modifications”, the reality is that a major aspect of the deal was re-worked in face of European protests. If elements of CETA can be reworked, there may be ways to re-do aspects of the TPP.
Second, CETA and the TPP are no longer consistent with respect to investor-state dispute settlement.
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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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