EU trade deals: concerns over drug access
Trade deals now being negotiated by the European Union (EU) could be used to force Canada and Thailand to implement anti-generic policies, activists have warned.
In July, the European Parliament rejected the international Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) put before it by the European Commission, which means it cannot become law in the EU. The Parliament's International Trade Committee had found the Agreement, as written, to be too vague and open to misinterpretation, and health activists had claimed that its over-broad definition of "counterfeiting" would have given unfair advantages to patented drugs and restricted access to generics.
However, Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have been warned by citizens groups in Thailand and Canada that the Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) being negotiated with these nations could bring ACTA in "by the back door."
Provisions within the proposed EU/Thailand FTA covering border measures, data exclusivity, patent term extensions and protection for new indications would block access to generics, thus violating World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules and the European Parliament Resolution on Major and Neglected Diseases in Developing Countries, according to a coalition of 18 Thai civil society groups.
In a letter to the European Parliamentary Delegation to Thailand, the groups welcome the Parliament's rejection of ACTA, but warn that the FTA now being negotiated contains a provision similar to that in ACTA that would put generic drugs at risk of being seized at a port while en route to destination countries if they are "merely suspected" of infringing intellectual property (IP) rights held in the in-transit nations.
This "border measure" is considered stronger than the global IP standard contained within the WTO's Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property rights (TRIPs) Agreement and totally against the WTO's Doha Declaration on TRIPs and Public Health, the MEPs are told.
Worse, a "great number" of additional provisions included in the current text of the EU FTA are more stringent that the TRIPs Agrement provisions on data exclusivity, patent protection extension, stricter IP enforcement, data exclusivity on new indications, etc, say the Thai groups.
"These TRIPs-plus provisions will inevitably prevent generic medicines competition, technically paralyse the use of public health safeguard measures by their trade-partner countries, and eventually undermine access to essential medicines of people in developing nations," they warn.
Meantime, with the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) due to enter final negotiation rounds in September and October, opponents have suggested that, with Canada having already become a signatory to ACTA, the EU is trying to "use CETA as the new ACTA."
One of the problems is the perceived lack of openness with which the CETA negotiations have been conducted, and no public consultation. This is leading to concerns that CETA could impose changes to Canada's domestic policy which would increase drug and health care costs, although Canada's Conservative government, led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, has described such claims as "a myth."
But one "especially ridiculous" claim by the government is that CETA has been "one of the most transparent trade negotiations in Canadian history," says Stuart Trew, trade campaigner with the Council of Canadians, the nation's biggest citizens' organisation. In fact, "the text of the agreement is secret. And even if Harper gets to the point of signing CETA, there are few options for making any changes to the deal once it is making its way through the parliamentary process," he says.
If Canada's federal and provincial governments move ahead with CETA, "they should give Canadians a chance to decide what parts should be changed or maybe pulled out entirely before it is signed," said Mr Trew, adding: "there should be no changes to Canada's patent regime."
By Lynne Taylor