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Doctors and nurses warn Prime Minister over trade talks

Doctors and nurses warn Prime Minister over trade talks

Media release: Te Ohu Rata O Aotearoa (Maori Medical Practitioners Association) and the New Zealand Nurses Organisation.

3 March 2013

More than 400 members of New Zealand’s medical community have signed a letter to the Prime Minister asking him to be vigilant that our future health is not negotiated away under the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA).

The letter, written by Christchurch paediatrician Philip Pattemore, was digitally signed online by 415 health professionals, mainly doctors and nurses. The letter expresses concerns over whether the TPPA could have a significant impact on New Zealanders’ future health and, in particular, the Government’s stated goal of achieving a smokefree New Zealand by 2025.

The health professionals urge the Prime Minister and his Government to insist on strong protections for public health in all 29 chapters of the Agreement, including those dealing with investments and intellectual property.

“The negotiations are held in secret, so we cannot be sure how much pressure the Government is under to sacrifice important freedoms. For example, patent extensions and data exclusivity might benefit foreign investors of each signatory nation, but it could stifle PHARMAC’s and Medsafe’s ability to provide cheaper, subsidised generic medicines for New Zealanders who need them,” Dr Pattemore says.

Auckland oncologist and Chairperson for Te Ohu Rata O Aotearoa Dr George Laking says New Zealand’s health community needs reassurance that their efforts to reduce tobacco-related harm are not being undermined.

 “If the Agreement creates protections for big foreign corporations, such as tobacco companies, it will mean they can hamper smokefree and other health-related laws by threatening legal action. These disputes would be settled by more secret offshore arbitration.

“There is no way of knowing whether the Government might be negotiating away its democratically appointed powers, handing them to foreign investors, and in effect putting public health at risk.”

New Zealand Nurses Organisation Policy Advisor Marilyn Head says the stakes are enormous.

“PHARMAC has saved the New Zealand taxpayer $5 billion over the past 12 years and greatly increased the access we have to medicine. Giving up the fight on patents could hike up the price of medicines significantly, causing inequity in access.”

University of Auckland Professor Jane Kelsey, who monitors the negotiations, says legal challenges to Australia’s plain packaging legislation show how useful Free Trade Agreements have become for the tobacco industry.

“We’ve already seen hesitance on the part of our Government over plain packaging legislation due to legal wrangling across the Tasman. Our worry is that negotiations for the TPPA, while arbitration takes place over existing trade agreements Australia has with other nations, is putting a ‘chill effect’ upon our Government when it comes to following Australia’s lead.”

 Smokefree Coalition Director Prudence Stone says the tobacco industry is responsible for the deaths of more than 5000 New Zealanders a year.

“It must not be allowed to find legitimacy in the context of international trade negotiations. Letting it do so sends a clear message that there is still working arsenal at the industry’s disposal to fight us in our battle to end tobacco use.”

The letter to Prime Minister John Key has been sent on the eve of the 16th round of TPPA negotiations which start Monday 4 March in Singapore. Negotiators are now facing pressure to narrow down outstanding disagreements.

ENDS

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