Letter: New trade laws bad for America, Iowa

The first cases of AIDS were nationally recognized in 1981. By the end of the century it is estimated that more than 22 million people had lost their lives to the disease. The call to action was dire. People were dying and they had no medicine that would save them. Today, that is not the case. Medicine has turned an illness that was once a death sentence into a manageable chronic disease. People living with HIV can live long, healthy lives. At least those who have access to medicine can.

There are a number of factors that affect access to affordable medication, and, believe it or not, trade agreements fall under that list.

Trade is great, right? It spurs the economy and promotes positive relationships with other countries. It sounds like something we all want. But what many Americans don’t know is that provisions are often slipped into a trade bill that have nothing to do with trade. For example, a trade deal between that U.S. and 11 other Pacific Rim countries is currently being written and is called the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or the TPP, and in that deal, big pharmaceutical companies have been doing their best to include provisions that would knock out any generic competition in the drug market. They do this in two ways: patenting slight modifications to existing drugs through a process called patent “evergreening,” and through a provision called “data exclusivity,” which essentially copyrights any clinical data about the effect of the drug.

Both of these provisions in the TPP restrict other companies from making generic medicine at cheaper prices. It’s simple economics — when there is competition in a market, prices go down. When there is a monopoly, prices go through the roof.

It is common knowledge that people in the U.S. can barely afford their drugs — imagine what these provisions would do the millions living in developing countries. Programs like the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) use generics to treat 7.7 million people in developing countries across the world. A competitive market for generic medicine has helped dropped the price of antiretroviral treatment for one person from $1,100 a year in 2004 to just $335 in 2012. Variety in the market is key for affordable medication, and both of the measures currently in place in the TPP (patent evergreening and data exclusivity) are going to cripple the global generic medicine market, hurting those most vulnerable to market change — the poor.

The president is going to try to push the TPP through the Senate and into law using something called trade promotion authority, or more commonly known as fast-track, which allows the Senate to vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on a trade agreement, but does not give the the ability to amend or debate its provisions. President Obama is currently asking Congress to grant him fast-track authority.

Sen. Grassley needs to deny the president the authority to use fast-track for the TPP. The cost of the TPP without amendments would far outweigh the benefits. Poor people in affected countries would be left unable to afford the life-saving medication they so desperately need, and programs like PEPFAR would likely have to reduce the number of people on treatment due to higher drug prices, leading to more infections and more unnecessary deaths.

The TPP does not have the interest of Americans at heart. The provisions in this deal could set a dangerous precedent for future trade deals. It isn’t good for millions of people around the world and it isn’t good for Iowans. Call Sen. Grassley today and ask him to vote “no” on fast-track authority.