The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is concerned that big brand name pharmaceutical companies are attempting to sway trade negotiations between Canada and the European Union to expand their patent rights. This move would drive up drug prices and costs for Canada’s health care system and individual consumers.
Ottawa (25 Oct. 2010) - Negotiations continued last week in Ottawa for a Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA).
The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is concerned that big brand name pharmaceutical companies are attempting to use the trade deal to expand their patent protection rights. This move would drive up drug prices and costs for Canada’s health care system and individual consumers.
NUPGE is one of Canada’s largest labour organizations representing 340,000 workers in both the public and private sector across the country.
"It’s no surprise that all big corporations want the negotiations for CETA to succeed because it will limit the right of governments to control corporate actions," says Larry Brown, NUPGE Secretary-Treasurer. "But there is self-interest and then there is excessive and crass self-interest."
"Canada's patent laws already give Big Pharma some pretty amazing protection," says Brown. "But this doesn’t seem to be enough for them and they’re now trying to expand their patent rights under this international trade deal. If they succeed, brand name drug prices will skyrocket even higher and that will cost our public health care system and Canadians billions of dollars more."
In essence, Big Pharma wants to use the Canada-EU trade deal to gain rights that they have been unable to get from Canada’s Parliament. These companies are actively encouraging the EU to demand provisions in the proposed trade agreement that will expand their patent rights and ultimately boost drug prices.
NUPGE has learned that Big Pharma is also lobbying Canadian governments to agree to these EU demands.
"They’ve been caught with their hands in the proverbial cookie jar and they need to get those hands slapped," says Brown. "We know the companies have been lobbying provincial governments for support for these self-enriching proposals. We also know that two provincial governments have dutifully picked up the big drug companies' case."
Ministers for both the Quebec and Alberta governments have written to the federal government asking them to sign off on the drug companies’ demands at the trade deal table. Interestingly, the provincial ministers are arguing for greater profits for big drug companies when they have to know that this greater profit will come out of the costs to provincial drug plans and the cost of drug purchases by their citizens.
The letters, which are suspiciously similar, like they have been drafted by the same group, don’t actually say that they are asking for changes that will cost the provincial treasury big bucks for more expensive drugs. But that’s exactly what the end result would be.
Canada’s drug patent laws are pretty clearly stacked in favour of Big Pharma already. A quick look at the profits of the big pharmaceutical companies will show how much they’re raking in.
The big drug companies get 20 years of patent protection before a generic company can make a new drug at affordable prices, and they get to extend that patent protection for another 2 years simply by claiming (not proving, just claiming) that a generic manufacturer is infringing on their patent. No other patent holder has that right.
But that isn’t enough for Big Pharma. They now want to get, in the Canada-EU trade deal, four provisions they haven’t been able to get from directly pressuring Canadian governments.
First, they want the right to appeal if their claim to patent infringement is turned down. Effectively this would add at least another couple of years to their competition-free ride.
Second, they want the federal government to accept a proposal in the trade deal that would extend the patent protection by however long it takes to get the new drug approved for the market. That’s what the EU is trying to deliver for their big drug companies, another right that the drug companies couldn’t get from the Canadian government directly.
Third, the drug companies currently get to keep their recipe hidden away for 8 years even if a new drug doesn’t warrant a patent. In the US that right only lasts for 5 years. It’s called data protection, but it really is about guaranteeing the right of these companies to make a profit even for a new drug recipe that doesn’t have any new ingredients that would get them patent protection. The EU, with the enthusiastic encouragement of the drug companies, wants Canada to extend this ‘data protection’, the right to keep their recipe secret, to a full 10 years, twice as long as the US provision.
Fourth, they want Canadian customs officers to be able to seize drug shipments if there is even a suspicion, or an unproven complaint, by a drug company, that the shipment somehow violates a patent right. And this would apply even if the drug shipment was simply en route through Canada to another country!
All of this backroom maneuvering is based on the simple desire of the big drug companies for even more profits and more protections for their profit making. The inevitable end result would be delayed access to cheaper generic drugs, a huge increase in the already skyrocketing cost of drugs, and a fatter bottom line for the companies.
"The proposals wouldn’t stand a chance in Canada’s parliament," says Brown. "So the brand name drug giants want to use the proposed Canada-EU trade deal to get what they couldn’t get directly. They want the trade deal to cancel the right of Canadians to have a say in how the drug industry operates."
"Our governments need to stand up for the right of Canadians - and for their own right to make democratic decisions. They need to tell the drug companies that they can’t go to Europe to get through the back door what would never be agreed to in an open debate in Canada," says Brown.
The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 340,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE