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NHS costs, food standards and IP must be protected in CPTPP trade negotiations, says committee

17 November 2021

The possibility of higher medicine prices for the NHS and issues around Intellectual Property and food standards, amongst others, need to be addressed by the Government following its publication of Negotiating Objectives for the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), according to the House of Lords International Agreements Committee.

In its report, UK accession to the CPTPP: Scrutiny of the Government's Negotiating Objectives, published today, the committee emphasises that the benefits of accession will be heavily dependent on the extent to which the Government may be able to secure carve-outs of specific obligations as part of the accession process. Whilst the Government has set out specific commitments or red lines, they lack detail, and no indication is given of likely obstacles. In some cases, such as on safeguarding the right regulate to achieve climate aims, no commitments or red lines were included.  

Issues covered in the report include: 

Economic gains 

There are potential economic benefits to the UK joining the CPTPP, though much depends on the future expansion of the CPTPP, and how successfully the agreement can serve as a platform for cooperation and UK influence in the Asia-Pacific region. Based on the existing membership, the government only expects a 0.08% uplift to GDP over 15 years. Other potential future adherents—such as South Korea and Thailand—offer greater potential. However, the two actual applicants after the UK have been China and Taiwan, raising both economic and strategic questions that the UK government should answer.   

Intellectual Property (IP)  

The committee notes that the rules of the CPTPP agreement directly conflict with the European Patent Convention, which raises the prospect of significant economic damage to the UK's patent industry. 

The agreement also introduces a mandatory notification procedure under which a generic or biosimilar medicines company is required to notify the patent holder when applying for market authorisation. This could result in higher prices being paid by the NHS for generic medicines and biosimilars. 

The committee calls on the Government to explain how it will ensure that the terms of accession are consistent with the UK's IP interests and that costs to the NHS will be avoided. 

Agriculture and Food Standards 

The report raises questions about whether the CPTPP's approach to food standards could be at odds with the UK's current precautionary approach, under which domestic restrictions on the use of antibiotics and levels of pesticides can be imposed. Food imports produced to lower standards could risk undercutting UK farmers and undermining the UK's food standards regime.  

The committee welcomes the Government’s commitment to uphold the UK's food standards but urges it to articulate how it will seek to manage divergent regulatory approaches. Safeguards need to be in place to ensure that imports of foodstuffs and other goods are of the quality and safety that British consumers expect. 


The Negotiating Objectives do not include any commitments or red lines to ensure that the UK's right to regulate is maintained in support of climate commitments and environmental standards. The committee calls on the Government to ensure these rights are maintained and to set out its plans for ensuring that CPTPP membership does not incentivise greenhouse gas-intensive agricultural practices in other CPTPP countries, which could, in turn, undermine the UK's environmental production standards.  

Chair’s Comments 

Baroness Hayter, Chair of the House of Lords International Agreements Committee, said: 

“We welcome the Government’s prompt publication of the Negotiating Objectives, which has helped their scrutiny by the committee. 

“Overall, we found that immediate economic benefits of CPTPP membership are limited, but the agreement may open opportunities for collaboration and deeper relations in the Asia-Pacific region.  

“The marginal economic benefits in the medium term must be set against some clear risks to UK interests within the existing agreement. In particular, there are significant concerns in relation Intellectual Property protections, where CPTPP clauses clash with existing UK law. Accepting these could force the UK out of the European Patent Convention, from which our companies benefit, and increase costs to the NHS of generic medicines.  

“There are similar concerns over food standards, given the contradictions between the UK's precautionary approach and CPTPP's science-based approach to regulation. 

“If we cannot negotiate safeguards in these areas, then the economic gains from CPTPP accession could be severely curtailed, or disappear entirely. The biggest question, which the Government must answer, is whether carve-outs from any obligations at odds with UK interests will be on the table.”  

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