Trade agreement would allow patent extensions, profit-protecting lawsuits, limiting access to affordable drugs, leaked records of secret talks have shown
Representing organizations that train and supply health workers in some of the world’s poorest countries, that push for global access to life-saving medicines, and that urge effective responses to infectious diseases, protesters opposing the Trans Pacific Partnership took their message to the streets outside of lawmakers’ offices this morning in an effort to change just a few minds.
At stake was a move in the U.S. Senate to match a House measure last week that would allow the deal, urged by President Obama to be “fast-tracked” without debate or amendment. Targeted were Senators considered strong global health supporters who had voted earlier to advance the trade deal, and who today had a second chance to stop the measure. They included Senators Chris Coons (D-De), Ben Cardin (D-Md), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), and Patty Murray (D-WA).
“Some want to protect the President, some are in states that are trade dependent,” Paul Davis of Health GAP said this morning.
Objections to the deal include allowances for pharmaceutical companies to maintain monopolies on high-priced drugs by extending patents on medicines to which only superficial changes have been made, and to challenge regulations that interfere with their profits. These components of the deal, revealed in leaked documents, would further limit access to affordable medicines that have allowed progress in recent years in expanded treatment rollout for HIV and tuberculosis among other diseases.
“Hey Senate, you can’t hide! We can see your corporate side,” protesters shouted, to accompaniment that included drums, a vuvuzela, and other home-made noise-makers, as they made the rounds of Senate office buildings. “Vote no on fast-track! We want our democracy back!”
As temperatures climbed into the humid 90s they carried signs they lifted for the benefit of Senate staffers staring from the windows of air-conditioned offices, elucidating their point: “Fast Track kills HIV patients, stop the attack on generic drugs.” They encountered Capitol police officers at each building, who told them to quiet down, to keep the sidewalk clear, to disperse, to stay together.
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) came out to encourage the group which numbered more than 50, and to urge the protesters to call “free trade Democrats” and urge them to change their votes.
That was already happening, protesters said, as part of an effort that included demonstrations at Senators’ home town offices, as well as multiple calls and tweets.
In the end, by 11:30, it had not done the trick.
The Senate voted 60-37 to invoke cloture, permitting a vote on the fast-track measure, next week. It is expected to come to the floor on Wednesday. The outcome on cloture is a clear indication that TPA will get the 60 votes it needs to pass, Davis of Health GAP said.
“Health advocates around the world are sorely disappointed in the Senators who voted for Fast Track, allowing it to continue by only a one-vote margin,” ” he added in an email, “TPA legally mandates U.S. trade negotiators to push countries to accelerate adoption of patent monopolies on life saving medications, beyond and in excess of agreed international norms and violating the spirit of Doha Declaration on TRIPS and Public Health. Fast Track greases the skids for the Transpacific Partnership, an agreement negotiated in secret, but whose leaked text is riddled with policies and provisions that will hinder access to affordable generic medicine. Its very disappointing that key global health champions who have so strongly supported people with AIDS, TB and malaria around the world were also some of the handful of members who voted for this deadly bill, and voters will remember these votes. We are grateful to Senators Cardin and Cruz for being the lone members of their respective parties to switch their votes from supporting TPA to opposing it.”
Organizations participating in today’s event AMSA (American Medical Student Association), Student Global AIDS Campaign (SGAC), Partners in Health, Engage, Globe Med, and UAEM (Universities Allied for Essential Medicines),Health GAP (Global Access Campaign), and Article 25.