No News is Good News: An Update on the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement

TPPA protests in Auckland, New Zealand (photo courtesy of Rhys Jones)
TPPA protests in Auckland, New Zealand (photo courtesy of Rhys Jones)

By Fran Quigley

The most important update on the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) is that there is no Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement. At least not yet. Shortly after publication of my essay, “The Trans-Pacific Partnership and Access to Medicines”, the trade deal that could trigger a devastating setback on the human right to health and access to medicines, appeared headed for completion. In late June, the US Congress narrowly delivered President Obama his requested “fast track” authority to negotiate terms that would lead to an up-or-down vote on the entire agreement. The granting of that power to a President who had long championed the TPPA led many observers to believe that a finalized deal was a foregone conclusion.

After the Congressional fast-track vote, a meeting of TPPA chief negotiators and trade ministers was quickly arranged for late July in Hawaii. Several country trade representatives predicted the talks would lead to a final agreement on terms. But the parties left Hawaii having failed to produce consensus.

TPPA negotiations are secret, but leaked texts and insider comments indicate that non-US parties have held firm in their opposition to US proposals to maximize intellectual property rights that would benefit western pharmaceutical corporations and restrict access to affordable medicines.1

Along with disputes about automobile and dairy imports, it appears that this issue, especially widespread opposition to the US demand for extensive monopolies on patented biologics medicines, has blocked the overall agreement.2 The government negotiators and the advocates that have resisted the US agenda for TPPA during years of negotiations—including Médecins Sans Frontières, Public Citizen, and Knowledge Ecology International, among many others—deserve the appreciation of the public health community.

The timetable going forward is not clear. In most party nations, the TPPA is a deeply controversial political issue, and one that attracts strange bedfellows. In the US, for example, opposition by public health and labor rights advocates is joined by many leading Republicans, including several running for president.3 Passionate anti-TPPA demonstrations are still occurring in many countries.4 Domestic political concerns may mean that finalizing any agreement, and the ratifying votes to follow, will be delayed past the US presidential election season of 2016.

If so, that is good news. For everyone concerned about the human right to the highest attainable standard of health, every day without a TPPA is a good day.

Fran Quigley, JD MA, is a clinical professor at Indiana University McKinney School of Law, where he directs the Health and Human Rights Clinic. Please address correspondence to the author at


1 Knowledge Ecology International, May 11, 2015 consolidated text of Intellectual Property Chapter for TPP (August 4, 2015). Available here . F. Quigley, “The TPP’s bad medicine,” Foreign Affairs (July 13, 2015). Available here

2 D. Gleeson and R. Lopert, “How the battle over biologics helped stall the Trans-Pacific Partnership,” The Conversation (August 5, 2015). Available here

3 Public Citizen, 10 Presidential candidates criticize the Trans-Pacific Partnership, upping political costs of supporting the pact. Available here

4 “‘No to Corporate greed’: Thousands of Anti-TPP protesters rally in New Zealand,” RT (August 15, 2015). Available here . L. Cormack, “Protesters rally against the Trans-Pacific Partnership in Martin Place,” Sydney Morning Herald (August 23, 2015). Available here