The United States is seeking broader protections for its pharmaceutical and other companies in negotiations on an ambitious Pacific trade deal, according to a document released Wednesday by WikiLeaks.
Julian Assange’s anti-secrecy activist website published what it said was the draft text as of late August for a chapter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which is being negotiated among 12 countries that comprise more than 40 percent of the world economy.
The text shows widespread disagreements among negotiators, despite calls from President Barack Obama to seal the agreement by the end of the year. Talks are scheduled to resume Tuesday in Salt Lake City, Utah.
In multiple passages in the documents, the United States is seen as pressing for greater leeway for companies to seek patents in the medical field, a move that could potentially restrict cheaper generic drugs in the vast area.
In the notes, most nations part ways with the United States and support two-decade-old exemptions under the World Trade Organization for patents in certain areas related to public health.
The text also shows that the United States and Japan are seeking to restrict nations from denying patents on the argument that products do not result in “enhanced efficacy.”
Generic drug leader India, which is not part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, has cited that reason to deny patent protections, enraging major pharmaceutical companies.
Public Citizen, a Washington advocacy group critical of globalization, charged that the Trans-Pacific Partnership marked a step backward and would lock consumers into high prices for medication.
“The Obama administration’s shameful bullying on behalf of the giant drug companies would lead to preventable suffering and death in Asia-Pacific countries,” Peter Maybarduk, director of Public Citizen’s global access to medicines program, said in a statement.
Pharmaceutical companies have traditionally argued that they need revenue from their inventions to fund further research into potentially life-saving drugs.
In a separate section, the United States and Australia are marked as opposing moves to limit liability of Internet service providers for copyright infringement that takes place over their networks.
Obama has argued that the Trans-Pacific Partnership will create US jobs by enhancing exports while ensuring top-notch labor and environmental standards.
A spokeswoman for the US Trade Representative’s office declined comment on the content or authenticity of the document released by WikiLeaks, saying that negotiations were ongoing.
But the leak renewed concerns among Obama’s political base, which has complained it has not been consulted on negotiations.
In a letter Wednesday, 151 House of Representative members from his Democratic Party opposed granting so-called “fast-track” authority that would give the Obama administration greater authority to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership, with Congress still voting up-or-down but unable to revise the text.
“We are deeply committed to transforming US trade policy into a tool for creating and retaining family-wage jobs in America, safeguarding the environment, maintaining consumer protection and improving the quality of life throughout the country,” the lawmakers wrote to Obama.
The text released by WikiLeaks did not cover agriculture, an area which the trade pact has concerned groups ranging from US Midwestern dairy farmers to Japanese rice farmers.
Many officials view the Trans-Pacific Partnership not only as an economic but as a geopolitical tool. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, in deciding to enter talks, spoke of ensuring Tokyo’s role in shaping the future of a region marked by China’s rise.
China, Asia’s second largest economy, is not part of the talks, which include Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]