The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, Intellectual Property Protection and Access to Medicines

Bangkok, Thailand. Photo by Waranont via Unsplash.

The inclusion of elevated standards of intellectual property (IP) protection in the recently negotiated Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement has raised serious public health concerns regarding access to medicines. A lesser-known trade agreement that went into effect in January 2022 in the Asia-Pacific region is the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). Framed as an attempt to reassert Association of Southeast Asian Nation’s (ASEAN) position in response to the United States-led TPP, RCEP includes key players China and India as well as several low- and middle-income countries (LMICs).

A journal article in the Asia Pacific Journal of Public Health by Belinda Townsend, Deborah Gleeson and Ruth Lopert was published in 2016 during negotiations for the RCEP agreement. The article identifies TRIPS (Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights agreement)-Plus provisions in leaked negotiating texts and examines their implications for LMICs that are not also parties to the TPP: Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand, China and India. 

The authors find that the higher levels of IP protection delay the market entry of generic medicines, giving rise to increased costs to governments and reduced access to essential medicines. Japan and South Korea proposed TRIPS-Plus IP provisions for RCEP that, if adopted, would have required changes to the patent laws of many LMIC members and likely delay the availability of generic medicines. The article determines that the public health community should recognize risks inherent in trade agreements that promote expansions of IP rights and engage with governments to ensure that public health is adequately and explicitly protected in trade and investment agreements.

Read the Journal Article