As the temporary shutdown of government drags on in Washington, media outlets have gone to great lengths outlining its damaging impacts: our fish are no longer inspected as thoroughly, and the Panda Cam blackout is raising plenty of social media outrage. However, little attention has been paid to President Obama’s cancelled trip to Bali, where 21 heads of state currently gather for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit. Far more than a simple loss of formality, the President’s absence seriously jeopardizes negotiations that have far-reaching consequences in geo-politic, trade barriers, and, you guessed it, international intellectual property rights disputes. Occurring concurrently at the APEC summit is the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations involving 12 APEC nations, including the United States, Japan, Canada, Australia, and developing economies on the Pacific Rim like Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam to establish the first broad trans-pacific free trade agreements of such scale. The TPP agreement will include an intellectual property rights chapter including provisions for intellectual property protection for pharmaceutical developers. The American Provision for the I.P. Chapter of the TPP demands longer monopolies for pharmaceutical patent holders and heightened enforcement of existing UN regulations governing patent infringement. The new standards sought by the American provision are notably stricter than current UN regulations protecting patents internationally. Many developing economies, including those attending the TPP, depend on generic off-brand drugs for affordable access to medicine. There is significant political pressure within these countries to block or mitigate the American Provision. Indeed, critics of this American Provision have charged President Obama with attempting to impose American patent laws on the rest of the world.
There is hope that the Bali negotiations will finalize a trans-Pacific free trade agreement. Should the United States push through its proposed measures, the TPP will not only protect American patent rights in current TPP nations, but also set a working precedent from which the United States can negotiate with other major Asian economies, including China and India. China especially has expressed interest in joining the TPP in a few years. Should the United States be able to expand on current intellectual property right protection in East Asia through the TPP negotiations, the ramifications of convincing China and/or India to conform to these new standards would be huge. Expanding patent and copyright protection for American enterprises in Chinese and Indian markets has the potential to increase American exports to and lower our trade deficit with Asia by billions of dollars.
In Bali right now, the American negotiating position has been significantly weakened by Obama’s unplanned absence. After months of technocrats talking out logistics, the TPP negotiations have moved into the phase where heads of state make the political calls on the controversial points. This soap opera in Washington has forced the U.S. to negotiate without a comparable authority at the tables. The leaders in Bali still maintain that negotiations are in the final phase, and will be finalized by the end of 2013. This, then, will essentially be the last occasion for every TPP head of state to convene personally and strike the necessary compromises. The shutdown has forced the President to abandon this crucial stage of the negotiations, and jeopardizes the chances America’s agenda will be realized in the final agreement. Future windfalls American businesses and inventors could reap from this new standard of international intellectual property rights enforcement now hangs in the balance.
If you’re interested in keeping up with the negotiations in Bali, official updates from the United States Trade Representatives can be found here: http://www.ustr.gov/tpp
The American Provision that’s being proposed at the TPP conference has been provided to the public by Representative Darrell Issa, and can be found on the Citizens Trade official site: http://www.citizenstrade.org/ctc/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/TransPacificIP1.pdf