New Zealand has issued a proposal to its trading partners which constitutes “a direct challenge to the monopoly interests of major pharmaceutical corporations,” says a leading advocacy group.

In a paper presented at the fourth negotiating round of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade agreement (FTA) involving eight Asia-Pacific nations and the US, being held in Auckland, New Zealand, this week, New Zealand has urged caution in moving beyond the intellectual property (IP) standards required by the World Trade Organization (WTO) Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS) agreement.

The confidential paper, which has been seen by the US advocacy group Public Citizen, warns that there is “a tendency towards overprotection of IP in all our societies, particularly in the areas of copyright and patents.” New Zealand proposes an alternative “TRIPs-aligned” structure, which would not require data exclusivity provisions, for example, but would focus on operational coherence and enforcement and capacity-building in developing countries.

In contrast, the “TRIPs-plus” provisions included in many FTAs involving the US aim to facilitate “stronger, longer and more common pharmaceutical monopolies, raise health care costs and limit access to medicines,” says Public Citizen. While the group is concerned at some of New Zealand’s proposals – including the risk that they could considerably increase the bias of IP enforcement policy towards rights holders – it adds that they could also preserve TPP members’ rights to pursue IP policies “that protect and promote regional access to lifesaving medicines.”

The document “represents a significant improvement over the status quo advanced in many developed-country FTAs over the past 15 years, and a direct challenge to the monopoly interests of major pharmaceutical corporations,” Public Citizen adds.

The group has also reported that US drugmakers are calling for US negotiators to ensure that the TPP talks secure “the highest possible” IP protections from the negotiating partners, plus changes to New Zealand’s pharmaceutical management agency (PHARMAC), similar to the restraints placed on Australia’s Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) by the recent US/Australia FTA.

The request is made in a paper submitted to the US Trade Representative (USTR) by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) and major US business partners, which also calls for the TPP to include a pharmaceutical chapter modeled after provisions in the US FTAs with Korea and Australia, says Public Citizen.

New Zealand should release TPP draft text, so the public can contribute, says Public Citizen, which also calls on the other negotiating partners to “take a cue” from New Zealand and “affirmatively introduce their own independent visions for trade and the knowledge economy early in the negotiations, so the matter is not settled by rote and a twentieth-century template introduced by the United States,” says Public Citizen.

- The original TPP took effect in May 2008, signed by Brunei, Chile, New Zealand and Singapore. The current talks also include Australia, Malaysia, Peru, the US and Vietnam, which are negotiating to join the Partnership.