Analysis: Med students swallow anti-trade mantra

It is one thing for an activist law professor to lead the campaign against New Zealand being part of the world’s largest free-trade grouping.

It is another when these regressive ideas are taken up by students, in one case medical students, who are among those who benefit most from taxpayer-funded study in a world short of doctors.

A short op-ed in the New Zealand Herald, on behalf of a “medical students association,” uses the same mantra we’re seen in all anti-TPP propaganda, such as “leaked texts” and “secret negotiations.”

I note they have started calling it the TPPA (A for Agreement, which it isn’t) as well.

Then there’s the bogey of the “transnational” (ie, global) pharmaceutical companies (Big Pharma) and the unproven claim that the TPP “threatens our ability to provide even the most basic care to patients” and “treat chronic diseases.”

Apparently this would result from Big Pharma challenging Pharmac’s decision-making process, as if the government’s drug-buying agency is the be-all of medical care.

That’s nonsense, of course, as Pharmac’s entire budget is only 6% of the overall health budget of $13 billion.

The drug industry’s argument with Pharmac is not about its purpose or future, as most countries have buying agencies, but that it doesn’t spend enough and effectively restricts access to the latest drugs for a lot of people who need them.

Where do the medical students think these drugs come from? It should be well known to people training for the profession to know that Pharmac has killed virtually all drug research in New Zealand.

So much so, that the government had an inquiry and took steps to boost research efforts.

Moreover, rather than act as a bulwark for New Zealand’s “ability to legislate for our best interest,” Pharmac has, perhaps unintentionally, made this country more dependent on overseas-developed expertise.

Long wait for insomniacs
The big pharmaceutical news of the week was a breakthrough drug for treating insomnia that has none of the side effects of current medications. This was carried by all mainstream media in the US.

According to US New & World, this new drug known as suvorexant is being developed by Merck Research Laboratories and is being reviewed by the US Food and Drug Administration for earliest possible approval.

This means the drug could be on the market soon and potentially make current treatments, with their side-effects, redundant. But in New Zealand, on past experience, Pharmac funding for such a drug could take up to five years.

Yet the medical students ask us to believe the TPP will stop “$3 prescriptions for essential medicines.” Fortunately, in the real world, doctors are still able to prescribe up-to-date non-funded drugs and will continue to do so when the TPP is finally signed off.

Instead of supping from the thoughts of university post-modernism and neo-Marxism (though Marx himself was an admirer of free trade), the med students would do better to study the views of a leading New Zealand drug industry identity.

In an interview with NBR ONLINE’s Caleb Allison, Graeme Douglas says a longer patent life – as the Americans are proposing – will affect his business, which is dependent on making drugs after they are out of patent (known as generics).

Mr Douglas, who says Pharmac is not the main issue in the TTP, also notes Pharmac has actually held the drug bill well below the rate of increase of most other consumer-type products. Dare one suggest people might be better off if a little more was spent on life-enhancing medicines and less on unhealthy food or drink?

Trouble at home?
New Zealand’s pioneering of the TPP is a the key ingredient of whether the country will remain open for business or revert to a fortress one where political interference and state ownership is the norm.

One pointer this week was the decision of state-backed Petrobras to pull out of oil exploration off the East Coast.

Naturally, this was hailed by Greenpeace and others as a defeat for the government’s policy of developing a major Norway-style energy industry. But The Economist, in a story, “The Perils of Petrobras,” gives a different slant.

The reports says Brazilian company is the victim of “political meddling” that has forced it to sell off overseas assets and retrench:

Since 2006, the government has capped petrol prices to combat inflation. To meet rising demand, Petrobras has been obliged to top up what it produces with imports, which it must then sell at a loss. Legal requirements to hire and buy parts locally – to support Brazilian jobs and industry – have played havoc with budgets and schedules.

Palestinian trade-off
The anti-free trade brigade are also likely to be vocal in their support for a Palestinian “state” and it was unusual to see them praise the government for ditching Israel and voting in favour of a UN presence.

This is something that not even Taiwan can get. Ironically, the only reason I can think of for New Zealand voting in favour of the pro-Palestinian resolution, rather than the usual policy of abstention or even support for Israel, is trade-related and the pursuit of a Security Council seat.

Generally, the move, announced by Murray McCully, has passed without attracting much comment.

But it will have been noted favourably in the Gulf, where New Zealand’s attempts to seal a free-trade deal have been frustrated by political and diplomatic ineptness (before Mr McCully got involved).

Elsewhere in the Middle East, US military has backed off denials a captured drone was not theirs. The Iranians were already caught fibbing about the invention of their own drone that could take off and land vertically.   

A picture of it published by the Iranian news agency was, in fact, a photoshopped version of one built in 2008 by students at Chiba University in Japan. The credit goes to blogging pilot Gary Mortimer, who photo-sleuthed the Iranian drone when it was unveiled on November 7.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports the drone captured by the Iranians is a Boeing-made ScanEagle that is used in a number of countries and is less advanced than other unmanned aircraft employed by the Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency, such as the Global Hawk and Predator.

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