Patently Obvious: A Public Health Analysis of Pharmaceutical Industry Statements on the Trans-Pacific Partnership International Trade Agreement

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The Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TTP) was a regional trade agreement negotiated by 12 countries, including New Zealand and the United States. Leveraging the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), which set new global norms for intellectual property (IP) protections in 1995, the patent-holding pharmaceutical industry lobbied for enhanced IP protections and rules affecting pharmaceutical pricing and reimbursement in the TPP. These provisions would have likely reduced access to affordable medicines and  increased IP protections in the TPP. 

A journal article in Critical Public Health by Pat M. Neuwelt, Deborah Gleeson and Briar Manning explores how the pharmaceutical industry used language to frame the TPP in an effort to influence opinion and exert leverage. The authors undertook a thematic analysis of the language used in publicly available statements about the TPP from the pharmaceutical industry’s national associations in the US and New Zealand.

The findings suggest that the TPP was portrayed as redressing inequitable pharmaceutical policies, which limit people’s access to new medicines. The TPP was constructed as the route to economic growth for the US and other TPP countries through increased IP protection for the pharmaceutical industry. This framing obscured tensions between industry interests and public health goals. The pharmaceutical industry stayed silent on the issue of affordability, a key dimension of equitable pharmaceutical access. The use of rhetoric, such as ‘win-win outcomes,’ hid the vested economic interests of the industry in the TPP. The authors argue that understanding the pharmaceutical industry’s framing of issues can assist public health advocates in challenging prevailing discourses and exposing industry interests.

Read the Journal Article