(Tokyo Shimbun: July 16, 2015 – p. 6)
Chief negotiators from 12 countries participating in Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations will meet on July 24 in Hawaii, followed by a ministerial session scheduled to begin on July 28. Japan and the U.S. are looking to finalize the trade deal, but not all the members are on the same page. Some are even showing reluctance to reach an accord.
The TPP consists of 31 chapters. Of them, intellectual property is the largest sticking point, as negotiations on this topic involve rule-making concerning patents and copyrights.
In particular, opinions are divided over the duration of patent protection for new drug ingredients. The U.S. demands that patents of ingredient data be protected at least 10 years, while Malaysia and nine other countries insist on a period of five years or less. Japan sits between them, calling for maintaining the status quo of eight years. Tokyo has urged them to make concessions, but the difference of opinions lingers.
The U.S. wants to withhold data on new drug ingredients for a longer period to prevent drug copying. The aim is to help drug manufacturers recoup their investments on research and development. The pharmaceutical industry wields a strong influence in the U.S. so the government cannot compromise easily.
Malaysia and other countries, on the other hand, are not home to many pharmaceutical companies that specialize in new drug development. Rather, they have companies that produce generic medicines from patent-expired data. These firms will face the difficulty of producing drugs if the data protection period is prolonged.
A longer patent protection period will also undermine the profits of generic manufacturers in these countries and may spark an increase in drug prices. As the issue concerns people’s health, they cannot simply concede.
Australia and New Zealand, [which favor a patent protection of five years or less], do not want to increase their fiscal spending. Drug purchases in these countries are funded through national coffers.