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Big Pharma TPPA rhetoric obscures industry self-interest

Big Pharma TPPA rhetoric obscures industry self-interest

NZ Population Health Congress media release, 7 October 2014

A recent analysis of patent-holding pharmaceutical industry statements about the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) reveals that the rhetoric used is designed to mask the Industry’s own interests and engender sympathy and support, at the expense of public health.

The TPPA is a large regional trade agreement being negotiated by 12 countries, including New Zealand and the US. The research project explored how the industry has used language to frame the TPPA, influence opinion and exert leverage.

University of Auckland researcher Briar Mannering told Congress delegates that the patent-holding pharmaceutical industry has been steadily lobbying for enhanced intellectual property protections and pricing controls to be included in the TPPA, that would raise the cost of medicines and reduce New Zealanders’ access to them. But, she said, much of the language used in this lobbying is disingenuous and deliberately designed to obscure the issues in its own favour.

“For example, the Industry says the TPPA would create a ‘fairer regulatory environment’ for pharmaceutical companies whose interests are eroded by the availability of cheaper, generic medicines. They say this will give New Zealanders better access to medicines and phrases like ‘win-win outcomes’, ‘level playing field’ and ‘equitable access’ are used.

“The reality is that the provisions proposed in the TPPA will allow patent-holding pharmaceutical companies to interfere with PHARMAC’s ability to source the most affordable medicines. This will lead either to higher costs to patients or to reduced funding available from the Vote Health Budget for other health areas – probably both.

“Interestingly, the industry talks about how great it will be for everyone when its economic interests are protected and words like 'innovative', 'pioneering', 'life-saving', 'strengthen', 'advanced' and 'high standard' abound. However, one thing it never mentions is the issue of the affordability of medicines to the public.”

Ms Mannering said other examples of rhetoric included framing the TPPA as ‘contributing to the public good’ and being the ‘route to economic growth’ for all negotiating countries.

“In actual fact, unregulated health care markets, such as in the US, lead to hugely increased costs – and therefore decreased efficiency and affordability. The USA has the highest per capita expenditure on health care in the world, yet the most inequitable health outcomes. This is not a model for good economic outcomes.

“The TPPA is portrayed as a growth opportunity for New Zealand through access to wider markets for the dairy industry, for example. There’s actually little evidence that major players like the US or Japan will open their gates to New Zealand dairy products. Unfortunately, the only economic growth the industry really cares about is its own.”

She said that, while the industry talks a lot about ‘equity’, based on leaked documents to date it is likely that provisions in the TPPA will lead to increased health inequalities.

“The TPPA will reduce New Zealand’s sovereignty and our government’s ability to regulate to protect the public good by giving corporations the right to take us to court when our legislation threatens their profits. Examples include policies around alcohol advertising or tobacco plain packaging – issues which impact on all New Zealanders.

“The industry has consistently portrayed itself as both victim and saviour. The truth is it is far from either.”

The research involved a thematic analysis of the language used in publicly available statements about the TPPA from the pharmaceutical industry’s US and New Zealand peak bodies. Data included press releases, submissions and other statements, dated 2008-2013.

The researchers were: Pat Neuwelt and Briar Mannering (University of Auckland) and Deborah Gleeson (La Trobe University, Melbourne).


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