TPP, medicines patent and tobacco trademark

After the 4th Asia Liberty Forum (ALF) ended in Kuala Lumpur on February 20, SEANET organized a small group discussion on “business friendly regulations”, same hotel venue. I was one of those invited. Below, Wan Saiful Wan Jan, CEO of IDEAS and Director of SEANET, spoke to explain once again what the meeting-seminar was all about.

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Aside from independent think tank leaders from some ASEAN countries, some friends outside the region were also there, like Barun Mitra, Cris Lingle, Julian Morris, Lorenzo Montanari.

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I gave a brief presentation. Brief as in 8 minutes or less.

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TPP’s liberalization agenda will:

  1. Force open members’ economic sectors such as agriculture, affect poor peasants, women
  1. Further push them into poverty, compete with giant agricultural corporations from more developed countries
  1. Increase corporations’ access to indigenous people’s lands and territories for resource extraction without their free prior informed consent (FPIC)
  1. Undermine country’s right to reject genetically modified

organisms (GMOs), subject those GMOs to prior risk assessment; ensure uninterrupted trade for GMOs to the benefit of major GMO producers and exporters like the US and Canada

  1. Permit corporations to violate labor rights by making it easier to offshore jobs to countries with lower labor standards
  1. Encourage more inflows of migrants who later forced to become undocumented migrants  to add more cheaper and docile labor

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  1. Endanger people’s right to quality and affordable healthcare due to strict intellectual property rights (IPR) on patents, data monopolies to medicines
  1. Make educational materials become expensive with strict IPR
  1. Violate internet users’ privacy rights and will stifle creativity and freedom of expression through severe copyright rules
  1. Mean death to democracy, allow corporations to use investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) to attack public interest laws to increase their profits; corporations suing governments over living wages, environmental protection , people’s access to public utilities
  1. Have knock-on effects on the whole region, have potential to be the standard that all future trade deals will follow
  1. Promote the hegemony of corporations, neoliberal regimes and political and economic dominance of the US and other powerful States over the developing and underdeveloped economies of the world.

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Among the prominent arguments why people hate the TPP and other FTAs with the US and EU is that stronger IPR protection would mean more expensive medicines, affecting even off-patent, generic drugs. Is this true?

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No. Perhaps all TRIPS flexibilities with regards to newly-invented medicines were respected by the TPPA. Like these texts, the red comments on the right are mine.

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Then I added another aspect of IPR infringement, the abolition of trademarks and brand logo for cigarettes.

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Concluding Notes:

  1. Joining the TPP has more gains than pains for member-countries, especially in exports and overall GDP expansion.
  1. IPR health provisions in TPP not scary, apply only to newly-invented medicines and not to cheaper generic drugs. Existing TRIPS flexibilities for new meds are maintained.
  1. Possible that generic pharma lobby + anti-capitalism, anti-globalization NGOs created more fear than what the TPPA actually provides.
  1. More to fear in government taxation of medicines, mandatory drug price discounts and price controls, than IPR protection.Brief presentation, I think I spoke for only 7-8 minutes, then the others gave their own inputs and insights on other topics. The full 14-slides presentation is available in slideshare.

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Meanwhile, the debate seems raging in Malaysia now regarding their government’s plan to introduce plain packaging in tobacco products too. All these news reported since last week.

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It’s now a Singapore-Indonesia-Malaysia triumvirate of tobacco plain packaging legislation. Soon it will infect the governments and stakeholders in the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, etc. And if they succeed, next would be beer, whiskey, other alcohol products? Then chocolate bars, soda and cola. The WHO should be involved in this new government initiatives. I will follow this development.

ALF 2016, Panel on property rights

The 4th Asia Liberty Forum 2016, #AsiaLF16, has successfully ended in Kuala Lumpur last Saturday night. Among the important panel discussions was the one on “Protecting Yourself Against Daylight Robbery — Current Challenges to Property Rights”.

Photo below, holding the microphone is Wan Saiful Wan Jan, CEO of IDEAS Malaysia, who chaired the discussion. The speakers from left:  (1) Lorenzo Montanari of Property Rights Alliance (PRA), Washington DC, USA; (2) Barun Mitra of Liberty Institute, India; (3) Kriengsak Chareonwongsak of the Institute of Future Studies for Development, Thailand; and (4) Julian Morris of Reason Foundation, USA.

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Lorenzo spoke about the International Property Rights Index (IPRI) annual reports, especially the latest, 2015 Report.

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Barun talked about fighting for property rights of poor rural workers and households in their tilled land in India.

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Julian talked about IPR, especially of trademarks and company branding. His paper title was witty, “Marks vs. Marx”, the former refer to trademarks, the latter refer to IPR confiscation and stealing/socialization.

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Among the slides shown by Julian. An example of a medicine whose products and corporate brand/logo was copied and stolen to sell substandard or fake medicines, which can have serious or even fatal consequences to patients.

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Plain packaging of cigarettes, the logo and brands of Winfield and Marlboro were removed, only their product name is displayed. Further below, when plain packaging is applied on softdrinks/soda and beer.

I don’t smoke, never smoked my entire life, I derive zero pleasure in smoking, but I respect other people’s decision to smoke. It’s their life, their body, they can do whatever they want with their life so long as they do not harm other people, like puffing heavy smoke in an enclosed room with many non-smokers inside.

I think people should not smoke, but if they decide to smoke because they derive some pleasure in smoking — the same way that I derive pleasure in drinking with friends, frequently when I was still a bachelor, and seldom now with a family and 2 young girls — then their freedom to choose which cigarette products or brands to take should not be curtailed by the government.

After all, the government is a huge hypocrite institution that says “promote public health, discourage smoking and drinking” on the left hand, then happily and gleefully collects billions of pesos or dollars of “sin tax” revenues every year from more smokers on the right hand.

Meanwhile, I am thankful again to EFN Asia and FNF regional office for giving me a travel grant to attend the 4th ALF. Thanks Siggi, Pett, Jules.

Asia Liberty Forum and property rights

* This is my article in BusinessWorld yesterday. #AsiaLF16

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The classical liberal philosophy of more individual freedom and more personal/parental responsibility, free market and less government intervention and taxation is not a popular personal and political philosophy in Asia yet, at least compared to similar movements in the US and Europe.

So annual events like the Economic Freedom Network (EFN) Asia conference, and now the Asia Liberty Forum (ALF), are very helpful in asserting the virtues of classical liberal, aka “libertarian” or “free market” philosophy. This concept is vastly different from other labels like “neo-liberal” and “US conservatism”.

The three-day 4th ALF event is held here in Renaissance Hotel Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. This is a huge international event from Feb. 18-20 with many participants from Asia, US, and Europe. The main sponsors of this year’s conference are the Atlas Economic Research Foundation in Washington DC, the Center for Civil Society (CCS) in Delhi, India, and the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS) in Malaysia.

Among the important panel discussions in the conference will be on “Protecting Yourself Against Daylight Robbery — Current Challenges to Property Rights” on Day 3. The session will be chaired by Wan Saiful Wan Jan, CEO of IDEAS Malaysia. The speakers will be (1) Barun Mitra of Liberty Institute, India; (2) Kriengsak Chareonwongsak of the Institute of Future Studies for Development, Thailand; (3) Julian Morris of Reason Foundation, USA; and (4) Lorenzo Montanari of Property Rights Alliance (PRA), Washington DC, USA.

The protection of private property rights is among the hallmarks of a free and dynamic society. If other people can say that “Your car is also mine; your house is also mine; your farm is also mine. I can enter and use them anytime I want,” then society can easily degenerate into chaos and disorder. No meaningful economic growth and social development can happen in this type of environment.

The PRA has developed the annual International Property Rights Index (IPRI). The index is composite for a country’s performance in three areas: (a) legal and political environment, (b) physical property rights protection, and (c) intellectual property rights (IPR) protection. The scores range from 1 (poorest) to 10 (best).

I made a short study about the performance of some ASEAN countries in terms of property rights protection covering eight years from 2008 to 2015. Singapore and Malaysia continue to have high scores overall in property rights protection. The Philippines made a modest improvement in its global ranking, from 87th in 2011 and 2012 (out of 130 countries), it jumped to 77th in 2013 and 65th out of 129 countries in 2015.

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If we observe the Philippines, the bulk of property rights protection — in malls and shops, hotels and restaurants, banks and condos, schools and universities, airports and seaports, etc. — is heavily privatized through the tens of thousands of private security agencies. It is not the police or army or barangay security personnel who guard and protect these businesses and residential, commercial areas, despite the huge and multiple taxes and fees that people pay to the government annually.

And this is an indicator that governments often forget their main purpose, their raison d’etre, which is the protection of the people’s right to life (against bullies and murderers), right to private property (against thieves, vandals and destroyers of property) and right to self-expression (against dictators). To have a rule of law.

When governments are busy giving away endless welfarism and subsidies, collecting endless taxes and fees, imposing endless regulations and restrictions, running banks, casinos, TV stations, and other businesses, there is a tendency to set aside its rule of law function and it is unfortunate.

Government should be big enough in enforcing laws on private property and citizens protection, and it should be small enough in intervening too much in the people’s daily lives, hence requiring small and few taxes to sustain itself.

Bienvenido S. Oplas, Jr. heads the Minimal Government Thinkers, a member of Economic Freedom Network (EFN) Asia, and a Fellow of the South East Asia Network for Development (SEANET).minimalgovernment@gmail.com

Plain packaging and trademark busting

Trademarks and brand logo are important to distinguish companies and producers from each other. A customer can say, “I don’t want to ride airline X because they are frequently late/delayed, nor airline Y too because they are expensive, I prefer airline Z because their fares are cheap they mostly fly on time.” That is branding from the perspective of customers.

When government or many groups dislike or hate something, this is how regulations and later prohibitions look like:

  1. Raise the tax, make it more expensive.
  2. Restrict or prohibit advertising to certain events.
  3. Mandate graphic warnings, like “Smoking kills” and show ugly pictures of dilapited lungs and mouth.
  4. Actual product restrictions to certain consumers, like “for people above 21 years old” and so on.
  5. Ultimately, plain packaging. Like all tobacco products, all beer and wine products, all  chocolate bars, etc. to be labelled as plain “cigarettes” or “beer” or “red wine” or “chocolate”.

Boring and lousy, right?

Of course smoking — and drinking lots of alcohol, and taking lots of soda, ice cream, eating lots of fatty, salty, preserved food, sedentary lifestyle, etc. etc — is bad for people’s health.

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But people — not the state or media or the health NGOs, etc. — own their body. People recognize the risks of smoking, drinking, drugs, etc. and they compare such health risks with the pleasure of smoking and drinking. Then they decide whether to continue doing it or stop; if they continue, whether to smoke 1 or 20 sticks a day, drink 1 or 6 bottles of beer a day, etc.

Too much nannyism by the state purportedly to “protect public health” is wrong, and is a clear smoke screen and excuse for more taxation, more regulations, prohibitions, more government.

Plain packaging of tobacco, beer, whiskey, chocolates, etc. in the Philippines, I do not think this kind of legislation will prosper here. Mainly because legislators themselves are among the big fans of branded tobacco, beer, wine, etc. But it is an opportunity for big time extortion by health regulators and/or legislators.

Meanwhile, the graphic photos law against tobacco consumption, the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) to be signed soon,http://www.interaksyon.com/article/123786/doh-implementing-rules-for-cigarette-graphic-health-warnings-out-before-march

Property Rights Alliance meeting in Kuala Lumpur

The 4th Asia Liberty Forum (ALF) started last night here at the Renaissance Hotel Kuala Lumpur, with an opening dinner, keynote speech given by Tom Palmer of Atlas. Earlier, the Property Rights Alliance (PRA) headed by Lorenzo Montanari held a short meeting for its Asian partners.

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Lorenzo discussed what the International Property Rights Index (IPRI) is all about,  its contents and ranking of countries, the value of property rights protection, etc.

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From left: Arpita  Nepal of Samriddhi, Nepal; Wan Saiful Wan  Jan of IDEAS, Malaysia; Bican Sahin of Freedom Research Association, Turkey; me; Tricia Yeoh of IDEAS, Malaysia; Lorenzo; Barun Mitra of Liberty Institute, India; Baladevan Rangaraju of India Institute, Dhananath Fernando of Advocata, Sri Lanka; and John Humphreys of PRIME, Cambodia.

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See my article today in BusinessWorld, “Asia Liberty Forum and property rights“.

Patents and pharma issues in Asia in 2007

The first time that I attended a formal discussion on IPR issues like patents of newly-invented medicines was nearly 9 years ago, during the 1st Pacific Rim Policy Exchange in Hawaii. There was one special topic on IPR-busting policies like issuance of compulsory licensing (CL), special CL, “international exhaustion” of a patent worldwide once a patent has expired in one country.

I just found my notes last night, no soft copy, so I took photos of one brief handout. The speaker was from an innovator company. He said that below were the important issues in the industry, ie circa 2007.

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For the Philippines, the main issue that time was the “cheaper medicines bill” that later became the Cheaper Medicines Act of 2008 (RA 9502) via amendment of the Intellectual Property Code (IPC). Among the important IPR provisions of the bill were:

— encourage parallel importation by implementing the principle of “international exhaustion” for patents and trademarks of innovator pharma products,
— easier process to issue CL by eliminating some of the safeguards provided at the WTO TRIPS Agreement, and
— deny new patents for new uses and indications of pharmaceutical compounds.

For Indonesia, the issue based on media reports, was that the Ministry of Health was considering issuing a CL for certain popular innovator medicines. In Malaysia, either a price control or CL, and data exclusivity via FTAs.

Singapore and Japan (and S. Korea?) seemed to be the only Asian countries where IPR protection of newly-invented medicines and vaccines was not a problem.

I thanked the International Policy Network (IPN) and the Property Rights Alliance (PRA), two of the 6 co-sponsors of the Hawaii conference, for giving me the opportunity to attend such a great forum.

Among the photos (I combined 2-in-1 here) in that event, from left: Martin Krause (ESEADE, Argentina), me, Julian Morris (IPN, UK), Alec van Gelder (also from IPN), and Barun Mitra (Liberty Institute, India).

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More on IPRI 2015 launching in KL last year

I am reposting this article from the Property Rights Index (PRA, Washington DC) last year, about the launching of IPRI 2015 in Kuala Lumpur that I attended. The photos I added and not part of the original PRA article.
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2015 International Property Rights Index

Monday, November 16, 2015 | By Dennis Cakert

The 2015 International Property Rights Index (IPRI) was officially launched this morning in Kuala Lampur, hosted by Wan Saiful Wan Jan, Director of Southeast Asia Network for Development (SEANET). Today featured an introduction to the IPRI given by the Executive Director of the Property Rights Alliance, Lorenzo Montanari, followed by a presentation on this year’s findings by the 2014-2015 Hernando De Soto Fellow, Prof. Sary Levy Carciente….

02Lorenzo Montanari released this statement earlier this morning:

“The 2015 IPRI emphasizes the necessity of property rights for creating a free market and driving economic growth” said Lorenzo Montanari, Executive Director of the Property Rights Alliance, “but we also recognize that property rights are first of all a matter of human rights. Property rights are directly related to the values and principles of individual liberty. The special case studies in this year’s edition demonstrate the importance of property rights for women and the poor in developing countries. This year data was available in countries where it was previously not, which is a good sign for future improvement. There are now 129 countries included in the analysis, up from 97 countries in last year’s edition. Countries that had strong property rights systems experienced significantly higher GDP per capita. In the EU, for example, IP accounts for 26 percent of employment and 39 percent of GDP. Societies undoubtedly achieve greater societal development by protecting property rights of authors, entrepreneurs, artists, innovators and inventors.”

There was also a presentation from Ganesh Muren, founder of Saora Industries, a Malaysian Innovative Social Enterprise that specializes in delivering safe and clean drinking water to rural and marginalised communities. Saora has innovated a proprietary solar powered water purification system that is able to purify any surface water (e.g. river water, rain water, pond) to safe clean drinking water through nanotechnology. The competitive advantage of Saora is their intellectual property. They have developed proprietary nanotechnology that replaces the usage of UV light to kill and eliminate bacteria and viruses. The affordability of this new technology developed by Saora makes it appealing and reachable to the poor, those at the “bottom of the pyramid”.

Mr. Burhan Irwan Cheong, Malaysia’s Lead Negotiator for the IP Chapter, Ministry for Domestic Trade, Cooperatices, and Consumerism, presented on the Intellectual Property Chapter in the TPPA and how it will implement a fair and transparent patent system in member countries. Young entrepreneurs like Ganesh Muren is a perfect example about how the TPPA will contribute to protecting the patent on his water purification system. Without the certainty of the rule of law, innovation does not exist.

noyLastly, Bienvenido Oplas Jr., President of Minimal Government Thinkers in the Philippines and a SEANET Senior Fellow, presented his economic analysis on the benefits of the TPP for trade. His extensive research showed that if the Philippines joins the TPP, exports are expected to rise 48 percent and real GDP will increase 61 percent. He also spoke regarding the importance of property rights to maintain order in society, while debunking the myth that IP hurts public health, proving instead that government taxation of medicine is the real problem.
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Afternoon of that day, Dr. Sary Levy was interviewed in Bloomberg TV Malaysia, live. The place is outside KL proper.

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The interviewer was a pretty and very articulate lady. Among the footages shown while Prof. Levy was speaking. It’s Wan, the CEO of IDEAS and Director of SEANET.

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