Archive for the ‘Consumer Protection’ Category

James Cormie is a legal intern at Global Access to Medicine. He blogs on issues of trade, IP, and international law. He is originally from Edmonton, Alberta.

Dear Fellow Canadians:

Welcome to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations! Fresh off a bruising fight getting provisions that protect internet freedom and privacy into Canada’s copyright Bill C-11, I’m sure that you are exhausted with defending your rights. Take heart. With the TPP you will not have much of a say on laws or policies threatening your privacy, rights on the internet and access to affordable medicines. Instead, lobbyists from major American industries and some 600 “corporate trade advisors” have helped lay out some of what the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) expects from you.

These are the same industries that forced major concessions on C-11’s approach to digital locks despite near-universal criticism. Hundreds of pages of new non-trade policy contained in the most sweeping “free trade agreement.”  The USTR proposes intellectual property provisions that cover dramatically more than copyright law. They touch a wide range of IP issues.  And you thought NAFTA was a pill? Sure, Big PhRMA used NAFTA to attack our drug formulary system and all of those compulsory licenses for affordable meds. But back then, our government drew a line.  Despite some considerable hysteria from the U.S. drug industry giants, did not give away all of our policy space. This time, however, TPP gives PM Harper a way to write all of us a real prescription for high drug prices and cement his view of Canada as an extended playground for corporate America.

Here are some of the highlights of the US proposed IP chapter:

• Expand patent evergreening and create new pharmaceutical monopolies, raising medicine costs
• Dramatically increase the life of a copyright term from 50 years in most cases under C-11 to 95 years
• Increase penalties for circumvention and reduce the exceptions for individuals
• Establish an American-style notice-and-take down system for online copyright infringement

This seems like a lot. If you were worried, however, that we had some duty to at least read the proposals for the law and voice our democratic concern—fear not. Negotiators act in secret. The only glimpse of the actual agreement so far has come from leaked copies of the text from the IP, Investment, and other chapters. Remember in the good old days of ACTA when the University of Ottawa filed an access to information request but received a blacked out document with only the title? Expect similar treatment during TPP negotiations. While lobbyists and corporate liaisons are granted electronic access to the agreement, your parliamentary representative might have to walk down to the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade to speak personally with The Honourable David Johnston, Minister of International Trade.

Moreover, if you are distressed by the fact that our respectable Department of Trade will have lots of work reviewing all the work done so far once Canada’s negotiators get hold of these secret drafts, you will be relieved to hear that Canada has a lesser role in the negotiations. By coming late to the table, Canada has achieved a 2nd tier position. This status requires Canada to agree to all the settled chapters, which they have not even read, and Canada cannot veto current provisions. Thus, not even lobbyists or the Trade Minister need concern themselves with settled provisions. The TPP negotiations shut individual citizens and even members of parliament and ministers out of the process.

The public response to C-11 proved that civil engagement has made a difference on intellectual property issues in Canada. The people, frustrated, fearful, and bedraggled, woke up to the oppressive measures of industry groups and fought hard. But this is far from the end. In upcoming years, we might still witness the implementation of a multinational corporations’ wish list, which seeks to criminalize copyright infringement, implement ACTA-plus provisions, and restrict Canadians’ access to affordable medicines. Through the TPP, USTR seeks to achieve all these goals and more—without too much of a voice from us. Will we allow American industry to dictate to the Canadian people our rights – or stand up and demand that Canada step down from these negotiations?

A few weeks ago, the Food and Drug Administration announced a new internal task force that would examine how the agency can become more transparent. The group would seek suggestions from employees, stakeholders and the public in an effort to reach the best conclusions about how the FDA could become more accessible. (For an overview of what the FDA does and does not regulate, see this Time article.)

Sure enough, the FDA has lived up to its promise. Today, Public Citizen’s own Dr. Peter Lurie, deputy director of our Health Research Group, is representing American consumers with testimony before the task force. While current FDA procedures favor secrecy so that drug companies can keep competitors in the dark about products being developed, Dr. Lurie will make three recommendations before the task force that will allow the FDA to become more open to the public.

First, Dr. Lurie will recommend that pre-approval documents should be made available to the public. This will prevent scientists from researching products similar to those that, unbeknownst to them, prior research has deemed unsafe, squandering time and money going down roads already proved to be dead ends. In addition, making this information public can save clinical trial participants from being put at needless risk by enrolling them in research likely to prove fruitless.

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Remember the report we issued on May 27 that outlined the failures of hospitals to report and discipline poor doctors? Well so do Charlie Gibson and ABC News because they covered our findings last night.

Watch the video here.

Our report found that nearly 50 percent of all hospitals in the United States failed to submit a single report to the National Practitioner Databank since its creation in 1990. The Databank was created to keep track of bad doctors by listing any practitioner who had their admitting privileges revoked or suspended for 31 days or more. That way, a hospital could easily check any doctor’s background before hiring him or her.

But this system has failed the very people it was trying to protect. Hospitals routinely exploit loopholes to avoid government requirements, such as the need to report to the Databank.

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If you’ve seen the Obama administration’s financial regulatory proposals, formally released today, you might be a bit overwhelmed. The 85-page document details many different elements deemed necessary for financial reform, including the creation of a strong Consumer Financial Regulatory Agency, new rules to prevent predatory and reckless lending, and much more.

But none of these reforms can take place with the current attitudes of the banking industry and Wall Street. Even Sen. Dick Durbin (D- Ill.) has said:

“The banks are still the most powerful lobby on Capitol Hill. And they frankly own the place.”

Even as it gets trillions of taxpayer dollars in bailouts, the industry that got us into this economic mess is lobbying as hard as ever against real reform. Never mind that Bank of America, after taking $45 billion of our money, spent $10 million on a five-day Super Bowl party. Never mind that AIG, after taking over $170 billion of our money, handed out $165 million in bonuses, including millions to traders who contributed to the company’s collapse.

That’s why Public Citzen has banded together with nearly 200 other organizations, ranging from financial experts to community advocates, to form Americans for Financial Reform, a coalition dedicated to changing the dynamic that has been in place too long where Wall Street bankers write the rules for themselves. Together, we’re calling on Congress and the Obama administration to put in place a strong watchdog structure with the resources and authority to keep Wall Street in check and protect our financial security. Our ultimate goal is to achieve reforms that keep people in their homes and prompt smart investment in communities and businesses that create good jobs and strong neighborhoods.

Want to get involved? Sign our petition demanding transparency, oversight, and accountability in the financial industry. We must remind our representatives in Washington that the bankers on Wall Street never again have so much control over—and so little concern for—the citizens of Main Street.

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