Australia trading cheap medicine for sugar exports: nurses

HEALTH workers in NSW warn medicine prices will rise under lopsided patent deals planned for the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

NSW Nurses and Midwives Association's Judith Kiejda said a shroud of mystery still covered the free trade agreement that links 12 Pacific Rim nations including Australia, the United States, Japan, Canada and New Zealand.

"The problem with the negotiation process for free trade agreements is there is no independent health impact assessment," she said.

"We risk trading away access to affordable medicines for lucrative sugar exports.

"What we now know about the TPP text, and what we are yet to learn, leaves us very concerned as health professionals.

"Assurances by (Trade Minister Andrew Robb) that Australia's health care system would not be impacted seem to have amounted to very little."

A five-year "data exclusivity" clause has been included, stopping companies registering generic equivalents of a new drug by simply proving it is "therapeutically equivalent" to its forebear.

They would instead have to go through the entire process of testing their own versions of the drug to prove it ready for registration, even if it was identical to the original.

It could have the effect of monopolising the market for a drug while the exclusivity period was still in place.

Ms Kiejda said another clause allowed patents on existing drugs to be easily extended into new uses or forms.

She argued it would deplete Australia's access to generic, affordable medicines and drive up prices.

"Whilst this is bad news for Australians, it will be even more devastating for developing nations," she said.

"We know that transition periods for developing nations are too short."

New processes that may allow overseas drug companies to sue the Australian Government for the decisions of its pharmaceutical benefits scheme were also included, Ms Kiejda said.

"If governments can't make decisions about appropriate health care provision, for fear of being sued, we need to ask: 'In whose interest are these deals being negotiated'?"

The union's spokesman Michael Whaites added his concerns about proposed changes to workers' rights.

"There appears to be nothing new in the TPP and we may well be in the same situation as Egyptian workers who won an increase in the minimum wage, only to see a foreign multi-national commence legal action against the government for having dared to try and improve the lives of workers," he said.


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