By: Dien Luong

It has become an annoying habit for American politicians to air their “concern” about human rights in Vietnam. The latest episode has many Congressmen grappling with a vexing question: Should Vietnam be part of the US-led 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership [TPP] – touted as the “most progressive free trade agreement in our nation’s history” by President Barack Obama, given Vietnam’s human rights record?

Obama has been so desperate to push the TPP through Congress before he concludes his term that his administration has been trying to talk the full house into believing that the pact would play a crucial role in improving Vietnam’s record. Oh, the irony! The US has been striving to show the world that it is an ardent promoter of human rights. But with the TPP, it threatens to turn traitor to its own seemingly lofty cause. There has been growing concern that the TPP will benefit and protect the profits of medical and pharmaceutical corporations without considering the imminent harmful effects on human health.

According to documents released by WikiLeaks – and confirmed as authentic by several US politicians – America’s TPP negotiators have spent years pushing for provisions that would, in effect, constrain affordable access to life-saving drugs. The US has asked signatory nations to honor US drug patents and marketing monopolies for even longer than many already do.

The most recent document revealed the Obama administration is backing off of drug-price protections for Big Pharma. But as The New York Times reported, “American negotiators are still pressing participating governments to open the process that sets reimbursement rates for drugs and medical devices,” health activists are adamant that these mechanisms would still inhibit the development of affordable drugs, particularly in developing countries like Vietnam, where the average income is less than US$5 a day.

The US claims to promote human rights and dignity, but the TPP unquestionably promotes profits over life.

It is even more baffling to see that on June 9 President Obama, aggressively defending his Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) before the Supreme Court issues a ruling within days that could gut it, chose to frame it in moral terms: “The rugged individualism that defines America has always been bound by a set of shared values; an enduring sense that we are in this together. That America is not a place where we simply turn away from the sick. Or turn our backs on the tired. The poor, the huddled masses. It’s a place sustained by the idea that I am my brother’s keeper and I am my sister’s keeper.”

If Obama really meant it, and does not think only Americans deserve benevolence, let us hope that his pet project, the TPP, will not “turn away from the sick” or “turn its backs on the tired, the poor, the huddled masses” in developing countries that are likely to be part of the pact.