President Obama’s recent mansplaining to Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren about the TPP reeks of desperation: if there is one lawyer in the Senate with the brains to understand the Trans-Pacific Partnership (‘TPP) trade agreement, it would be Warren, even under the incredibly limited review allowed to senators.
What state is Warren from? Massachusetts.
And what is a key industry–one that continues to grow and bring jobs from around the world to the Commonwealth (God save it!)? Biotech.
Now, let’s stir some of this into the pot (boldface mine):
The public health repercussions of this deal could be massive. The negotiating countries represent at least 700 million people, and U.S. negotiators refer to the TPP as a “blueprint” for future trade deals. The TPP attempts to rewrite existing global trade rules and would dismantle legal flexibilities and protections afforded for public health.
We have concerns with several U.S. government demands in the TPP. For example, the TPP would lower the standard for patentability of medicines. It would force TPP governments to grant pharmaceutical companies additional patents for changes to existing medicines, even when the changes provide no therapeutic benefit to patients. These provisions would facilitate “evergreening” and other forms of abuse of the patent system by lengthening monopolies and delaying access to generic competition.
Another concerning provision in the TPP involves so-called “data exclusivity” for biologics, a new class of medicines that includes vaccines and drugs used for cancer and multiple sclerosis treatment. Data exclusivity blocks competing firms from using previously generated clinical trial data to gain approval for generic versions of these drugs and vaccines. If pharmaceutical companies have their way, the TPP will block generic producers of biologics from entering the market for at least 12 years, during which patients would be forced to endure astronomical prices.
The rationale given for such an exclusivity period is that it will promote innovation by allowing originator companies enough time to charge high prices and recoup their research and development investment. This simply isn’t supported by the evidence. On the contrary, the Federal Trade Commission finds that no years of data exclusivity were necessary to promote innovation in biologic drugs.
Twelve years of data exclusivity is not only unprecedented in any trade agreement, it is not the law in any of the TPP negotiating countries outside of the U.S., and it would keep lifesaving medicines out of reach of millions of people. The Obama Administration has actually called for data exclusivity to be reduced to seven years at home, so it is puzzling that the U.S. Trade Representative would be aggressively pushing for these terms in the TPP.
This is a goddamn windfall for a key industry in the state of Massachusetts, especially the biologics component–there are a lot of biologics startups hoping to cash in.
And Obama’s taunt that Warren is a politician is entirely correct: she’s a very smart and savvy politician. She knows what makes her state run. She knows what provides jobs and brings in revenue.
So here’s the question:
Just how goddamn awful does the TPP have to be for Senator Warren to oppose it?
What exactly is in the TPP that she would oppose it over the clear economic interests of her state? If we ever get to see the damn thing, I think many people are going to be shocked at how many horrible things are put into that agreement. Moreover, I think those economists who view this as a ‘free-trade’ agreement–without having seen the document themselves–are going to end up looking very foolish and naive.