Health sector raises concerns over TPPA

Patients may suffer if New Zealand's interests are not protected in the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA), senior academics and doctors warn in an open letter to Health Minister Tony Ryall.

The 60 signatories include University of Otago pro-vice-chancellor of health sciences Prof Peter Crampton, and Dunedin Medical School professor of surgery John McCall. Negotiators hope to sign a deal by the end of this year, and a crucial four-day negotiating meeting in Singapore ends today.

''We have serious concerns that the partnership agreement will cause patients to suffer and will load governments with additional, unreasonable costs for medical technologies (both new and existing),'' the letter said.

The letter voices fears New Zealand might agree to water down Pharmac's ability to negotiate, making medicines more expensive.

Also of concern was the high level of secrecy around the process.

''We are writing to express our deep dismay that the Government might consider making such decisions when there has been no public disclosure of the draft text, nor any opportunity to analyse provisions that may have a negative impact on the health of the New Zealand population.

''We are concerned also there may be other provisions that pose risks to public health and will not be identified unless there is an opportunity for open scrutiny prior to finalising the agreement.''

The letter warns against prohibitions on further regulation of tobacco, alcohol, unhealthy foods, and the built environment, as it would compromise New Zealand's ability to improve public health.

Clauses that could harm Pharmac included delaying the market entry of generic drugs, and extending drug patent terms.

''The leaked intellectual property chapter showed the US was making proposals that would require significant changes to New Zealand law and undermine Pharmac's ability to negotiate on pharmaceutical prices for the New Zealand health sector.''

The letter urges Mr Ryall to ensure Trade Minister Tim Groser rejects any proposals requiring changes to New Zealand law or policy settings.

A spokeswoman for Mr Ryall, when contacted, recommended the Otago Daily Times contact Mr Groser for comment.

The TPPA is a proposed free trade deal involving 12 countries, including the United States.

Benefits of the TPPA cited by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade included eliminating tariffs, reducing compliance costs for exporters, opportunities to access government procurement contracts, and reduced barriers to investment.

eileen.goodwin@odt.co.nz

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