Congressman Levin Gets It Wrong On TPP

It’s clear why the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) continues to make headlines. This trade agreement, which has the potential to bolster manufacturing, agricultural production, , environmental and labor protection, and regional security, will allow the United States to remain a global leader for the coming century.

Yet two particular areas have not received enough discussion. These include the TPP’s improved guarantees for intellectual property rights and the benefits of such policies for pharmaceutical innovations.

As such, it’s alarming to read Rep. Sandy Levin’s (D-MI) critical assessment in the Huffington Post. According to Congressman Levin, the TPP would represent a major step backwards in US policy. His qualms are rooted in what he sees as the failures of TPP as compared with the 2007 agreement on pharmaceutical access and affordability, known as the May 10 Agreement, which was backloaded into U.S. free trade agreements negotiated with Panama, Peru, and Colombia.

For intellectual property and innovation, TPP offers much-needed advances to May 10.

WASHINGTON, DC – APRIL 22: Committee chairman U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) (L) listens to ranking member Rep. Sander Levin (D-MI) (R) during a hearing before House Ways and Means Committee April 22, 2015 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The committee held the hearing on ‘Expanding American Trade with Accountability and Transparency.’ (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Hell-bent on making medicines more accessible and affordable, May 10 undermined biopharmaceutical innovation and weakened competition among leading companies. It slashed data protections necessary for continued R&D investment, and also created unfair regulatory opportunities for generic drugs to enter the market without the same stringency as patented medicines.

Representative Levin asserts that because of health care budgets, under the TPP “developing countries could not afford to take on the same high-level intellectual property commitments on pharmaceutical products that developed countries are expected to take.” But Levin is all wrong here. Market penetration rates by generic medicines run as high as 86% even in the U.S. market and, according to the World Health Organization, more than 90% of essential medicines are off-patent. It is simply not true to suggest that governments of lesser developed countries would not be able to afford essential medicines under new TPP standards.

Congressman Levin also lambastes U.S. negotiators for pressing for 12 years of data exclusivity for biologic medicines. However, the TPP’s 12-year standard aligns with the length of protection spelled out in the Affordable Care Act, a law which Levin has widely lauded as a success since its enactment.