Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

Health Care and the TPP


The latest release from WikiLeaks on parts of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement dealing with medical insurance and medical systems goes some way in affirming the destructive potential the agreement has.[1] Forged in the corridors of unaccountable secrecy, officials have been undermining their own sovereign systems at stages, even as they claim it to be in their country’s interest.

The draft chapters released by WikiLeaks have already revealed the extent corporations will be privileged with an assortment of investment protections, while broader environmental protections will be undermined. The entire agreement reads like a catastrophic abdication of sovereignty and state responsibility. The boardroom triumphs over the parliamentary chamber.

In an analysis of the Annex on transparency and procedural fairness for pharmaceutical products by Jane Kelsey of the Law Faculty at Auckland University, we are told that the document “seeks to erode the processes and decisions of agencies that decide which medicines and medical devices to subsidise with public money and by how much.”[2]

Provinces where the state should stand guard will be subject to a shadow occupation. The TPP acts as an ultimate ground clearance, a form of scorched earth policy on traditional protections. One such area is that of state-run medical schemes. Investor-state disputes have the potential of cutting deep there, where the investors (corporations, for the most part) will have a legitimate expectation to be treated fairly and equitably. This may arise in cases where subsiding medicines or medical devices could be challenged as negatively affecting investments.

For that reason, Australia, in the leaked investment chapter of January 2015, specified that its own Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, Medicare Benefits Scheme, and Therapeutic Goods Administration and Office of the Gene Technology Regulation would be exempt from such investor state dispute settlement.

The analysis on the potential effect of the agreement on New Zealand’s Pharmaceutical Management Agency (Pharmac) is telling. It also reveals the persistent doublespeak of diplomats who are proclaiming one reality for citizens, and another for the strategic, US-led fold.

US Trade officials and members of the pharmaceutical industry have made it clear that Pharmac is the bogey to their vision of free trade. Established in 1993, its aim was “to secure for eligible people in need of pharmaceuticals the best health outcomes that are reasonably achievable from pharmaceutical treatment and from within the amount of funding provided” (Disability Act 2000, s. 47).

Its role is singular and expansive, covering the negotiation of prices of medical products with the pharmaceutical companies and levels of reimbursement. It is also a dream for those concerned about skyrocketing costs in the medical sector. The US pharmaceutical industry has expressed a different view, seeing it as the grand obstacle, “an egregious example” of a model that pushes down prices of medicines and medical devices at the expense of profit.

The submission to the US government by the industry in 2011 regarding the TPPA specifically made that point, further noting the sanctity of intellectual property, which was being violated by this perceived lack of transparency. The powerful were feeling slighted.

The US annual report on Special 301 (2015) by Michael Froman, covering intellectual property issues, notes “serious concern about the policies and operation of New Zealand’s Pharmaceutical Management Agency (PHARMAC), including, among other things, the lack of transparency, fairness and predictability of the PHARMAC pricing and reimbursement scheme, as well as the negative aspects of the overall climate for innovative medicines in New Zealand.”

The discussion about fairness and transparency has little to do with accrued benefits for citizens. The trade scheme on the table has everything to do with the corporate wallet and its anticipated depth. Fair treatment towards citizens, which would entail keeping medical costs down and make health care accessible, is less significant than pharmaceutical profit margins. But just to remind us about how the US negotiating position on this has been shaped, we need only see that it deems its own state run schemes to be exempt from the free trade bonanza.

The schemes of other countries are to be targeted, while domestic interests are satisfied. This strategy was exactly the same one pursued in making the free trade agreement with Australia. “USTR has worked closely with all relevant US agencies to ensure the FTA does not require any changes to US health care programs.” The US trade lobby pilfers, while the smaller state run schemes suffer.

There are signs that the free trade ideology may not be receiving the same purchase on the Hill it once did. Last Friday, the House of Representatives voted down the Trade Promotion Authority to “fast track” the TPPA negotiations.[3] While this is far from suggesting that the members have gone cold on regional trade agreements, it suggests that providing the executive vast powers to push supposedly “free” trade deals is a source of concern. Greater scrutiny is required.

Outside the various parliaments involved, resistance to the TPPA has reinvigorated the anti-globalisation movement, finding form in a grass roots resistance that is gradually breaking through the manufactured consensus on free trade. Free trade is the age’s great oxymoron, and deserves banishment from the lexicon of political engagement.

Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email:





Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email:

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


Weekend Edition
October 21, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Wight
Hillary Clinton and the Brutal Murder of Gaddafi
Diana Johnstone
Hillary Clinton’s Strategic Ambition in a Nutshell
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Trump’s Naked and Hillary’s Dead
John W. Whitehead
American Psycho: Sex, Lies and Politics Add Up to a Terrifying Election Season
Stephen Cooper
Hell on Earth in Alabama: Inside Holman Prison
Patrick Cockburn
13 Years of War: Mosul’s Frightening and Uncertain Future
Rob Urie
Name the Dangerous Candidate
Pepe Escobar
The Aleppo / Mosul Riddle
David Rosen
The War on Drugs is a Racket
Sami Siegelbaum
Once More, the Value of the Humanities
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
Neve Gordon
Israel’s Boycott Hypocrisy
Mark Hand
Of Pipelines and Protest Pens: When the Press Loses Its Shield
Victor Wallis
On the Stealing of U.S. Elections
Michael Hudson
The Return of the Repressed Critique of Rentiers: Veblen in the 21st century Rentier Capitalism
Brian Cloughley
Drumbeats of Anti-Russia Confrontation From Washington to London
Howard Lisnoff
Still Licking Our Wounds and Hoping for Change
Brian Gruber
Iraq: There Is No State
Peter Lee
Trump: We Wish the Problem Was Fascism
Stanley L. Cohen
Equality and Justice for All, It Seems, But Palestinians
Steve Early
In Bay Area Refinery Town: Berniecrats & Clintonites Clash Over Rent Control
Kristine Mattis
All Solutions are Inadequate: Why It Doesn’t Matter If Politicians Mention Climate Change
Peter Linebaugh
Ron Suny and the Marxist Commune: a Note
Andre Vltchek
Sudan, Africa and the Mosaic of Horrors
Keith Binkly
The Russians Have Been Hacking Us For Years, Why Is It a Crisis Now?
Jonathan Cook
Adam Curtis: Another Manager of Perceptions
Ted Dace
The Fall
Sheldon Richman
Come and See the Anarchy Inherent in the System
Susana Hurlich
Hurricane Matthew: an Overview of the Damages in Cuba
Dave Lindorff
Screwing With and Screwing the Elderly and Disabled
Chandra Muzaffar
Cuba: Rejecting Sanctions, Sending a Message
Dennis Kucinich
War or Peace?
Joseph Natoli
Seething Anger in the Post-2016 Election Season
Jack Rasmus
Behind The 3rd US Presidential Debate—What’s Coming in 2017
Ron Jacobs
A Theory of Despair?
Gilbert Mercier
Globalist Clinton: Clear and Present Danger to World Peace
James A Haught
Many Struggles Won Religious Freedom
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Dear Fellow Gen Xers: Let’s Step Aside for the Millennials
Tom Clifford
Duterte’s Gambit: the Philippines’s Pivot to China
Uri Avnery
The Peres Funeral Ruckus
Reyes Mata III
Scaling Camelot’s Walls: an Essay Regarding Donald Trump
Raouf Halaby
Away from the Fray: From Election Frenzy to an Interlude in Paradise
James McEnteer
Art of the Feel
David Yearsley
Trump and Hitchcock in the Age of Conspiracies
Charles R. Larson
Review: Sjón’s “Moonstone: the Boy Who Never Was”