(A version of this Health Alert was published by Forbes.)
Republican congressional leaders are eager to give President Obama Trade Promotion Authority, or “Fast Track.” Proponents argue that Fast Track will break the logjam holding up important international trade agreements like the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), which includes countries as diverse as Australia, Canada, Peru and Vietnam.
Fast Track would allow the president to finalize the agreement before sending it to Congress for a straightforward up-or-down vote within a limited time. However, the likelihood of Fast Track resulting in TPP getting a “thumbs up” from Congress is limited by potential differences between the president and the congressional majority on intellectual property rights.
In a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) asserted that the administration must pursue a number of negotiating objectives, including “beefing up protections for U.S. intellectual property” if it wants Congress to approve the TPP.
It is uncertain the president is as committed to intellectual property as Mr. Ryan and Mr. Cruz hope, especially with respect to patents for medicines. Although the text of the TPP is not yet available to the public, the U.S. Trade Representative, who negotiates in the president’s name, insists that “TPP countries have agreed to reflect in the text a shared commitment to the Doha Declaration on TRIPS and Public Health.”
The 2001 Doha Declaration was an attempt to limit international trade agreements’ commitment to patent rights that were accepted in the World Trade Organization’s 1995 Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement. It insists that low and middle-income countries should have broad latitude to allow generic drug makers to make copies of patented medicines through a legal mechanism called “compulsory licensing.”
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