A secretive international trade deal could freeze U.S. healthcare reform and crush the public health system of countries like New Zealand and Australia, according to the latest disclosure from WikiLeaks made Wednesday.
The latest leak from the whistleblower website is a section of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) that would impose new regulations on signatory governments' abilities to provide healthcare and medicine to citizens.
“The purported aim of the (Healthcare) Annex is to facilitate ‘high-quality healthcare’ but the Annex does nothing to achieve this,” said Dr Deborah Gleeson from Australia's La Trobe University.
Gleeson was one of two experts that analyzed the newly leaked Healthcare Annex of the TPP Transparency chapter for WikiLeaks. According to Gleeson, the annex “is clearly intended to cater to the interests of the pharmaceutical industry,” and “serves no useful public interest purpose.”
“Nor does this do anything to promote ‘free trade’: rather it tightly specifies the operation of countries’ schemes for subsidizing pharmaceuticals and medical devices with the aim of providing greater disclosure, more avenues for pharmaceutical industry influence and greater opportunities for industry contestation of pharmaceutical decision making,” she said in her analysis.
Unlike previous leaked TPP drafts, the newly released annex appears to be almost a finished product with most details already agreed to by negotiators, Gleeson said.
Among her key concerns are measures included in the annex that would force TPP member states to pursue healthcare policies primarily to benefit multi-national corporate interests, instead of domestic public health.
“Paragraph X.4 includes a consultation mechanism which could be used to apply ongoing pressure to countries to make changes to their pharmaceutical programs in the interests of the U.S.-based pharmaceutical and medical device industries,” she stated.
This suggests the ability of member states to subsidize medicine will be “severely” eroded, according to the second expert consulted by Wikileaks, Professor Jane Kelsey from the University of Auckland, New Zealand.
“That will mean fewer medicines are subsidized, or people will pay more as co-payments, or more of the health budget will go to pay for medicines instead of other activities, or the health budget will have to expand beyond the cap,” she said, referring to the implications of the TPP on New Zealand's medicine subsidy administrator, Pharmac.
Crushing the New Zealand Example
Pharmac has been praised internationally for dramatically lowering medicine costs in New Zealand over the past decade, mostly by encouraging fierce competition between pharmaceutical companies for subsidies. Under the program, the government hunts for the cheapest brand of medicine and subsidizes its shelf price; pumping up sales for that particular company, but encouraging the industry in general to rush to provide consumers with the lowest possible prices.
Kelsey argued Pharmac is an example of a “highly successful model” for providing cheap medicine, and has saved New Zealander consumers more than 5 billion New Zealand dollars (US$3.6 billion) since 2000.
However, she argued U.S. based pharmaceutical companies have long riled against Pharmac, pointing to one 2011 industry submission to the TPP that described the New Zealand scheme as an “egregious example” of a government program with a “sole focus on driving down costs.”
By scuttling Pharmac, the TPP would crush one of the best examples of healthcare subsidization in the world today, Kelsey explained.
“It is Pharmac’s precedent value rather than the value of New Zealand’s market, which explains the pharmaceutical industries’ determination to undermine its effectiveness,” she explained,
Kelsey added, “New Zealand taxpayers and New Zealanders’ health are collateral damage in a much bigger game plan.”
The same measures that would crush Pharmac in New Zealand would “inhibit the adoption of similar programs in developing countries,” and the United States, according to Wikileaks.
“The Annex will also tie the hands of the U.S. Congress in its ability to pursue reforms of the Medicare program,” WikiLeaks said in a statement.
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Once the TPP is completed, its provisions will override national laws of its 12 member states, including Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and the United States. The deal is already being hailed as the largest trade agreement in world history, and will encompass over 40 percent of global GDP.
However, the deal is just part of a broader set of complementary trade agreements being negotiated by world powers behind closed doors.
“It is a mistake to think of the TPP as a single treaty. In reality there are three conjoined mega-agreements, the TiSA, the TPP and the TTIP, all of which strategically assemble into a grand unified treaty, partitioning the world into the west versus the rest,” WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange stated.
While TiSA is a trade deal between 23 states ranging from Europe to South America, the TTIP is the TPP's sister deal between the European Union and United States.
Describing the trio of agreements as the “Great Treaty,” Assange argued all three trade deals are effectively an economic companion to the U.S. military's “Asia pivot,” which aims to counter the rise of China.
“The Great Treaty is taking shape in complete secrecy, because along with its undebated geostrategic ambitions it locks into place an aggressive new form of transnational corporatism for which there is little public support,” he stated.