Industry sources this week said they expect the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative to float new ideas related to its controversial access to medicines proposal when meeting with other Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) members at the next round of formal negotiations, which kicks off in Singapore on March 4.
According to these sources, USTR intends to "verbalize" new ideas related to its proposal at the upcoming round in the hope that this could then pave the way for tabling new legal text at the subsequent TPP round in May in Peru.
One source said USTR may simply float its new ideas bilaterally with different TPP members instead of looking to discuss them more formally with all TPP members in a plurilateral context. Sources said USTR still appears to be reviewing possible options for how to move forward in this area, and has not settled definitively on anything yet.
The U.S. proposal - which focuses on the concept of an "access window" - has been roundly criticized by TPP members. It has not been formally discussed at a TPP round since March 2012. In light of that resistance, USTR has undertaken an internal review on possible changes that intensified late last year (Inside U.S. Trade, Jan. 18).
On the one hand, USTR is under pressure to move ahead with potential revisions to its proposal soon in light of the fact that TPP members are striving to conclude talks this year. Last month, a USTR spokeswoman said that all TPP members are trying to table outstanding textual proposals as soon as possible to help the talks move to a close (Inside U.S. Trade, Jan. 11).
Perhaps due to this sense of urgency, some sources speculated that while USTR may not have completed its internal review on possible changes, it still may want to share some initial ideas with TPP members at the Singapore round.
Significant revisions to the USTR proposal could help win over TPP members like Peru, which have flatly rejected the original U.S. proposal as tabled in September 2011. At the same time, TPP members would likely need time to digest and respond to a radically different U.S. proposal, which could prove a hurdle to concluding talks soon.
In light of the fact that TPP members are aiming to conclude talks in October, several observers last month questioned whether a radical revision of the initial U.S. proposal on patents is even feasible at this point.
The access window concept envisioned in the U.S. proposal required TPP governments to provide an enhanced set of protections in areas like patent linkage, patent term extensions and data exclusivity if a brand-name pharmaceutical company seeks marketing approval in that TPP country for a given product within a certain period of time after it has been authorized for sale in another country.