Statement of Robert Weissman on the CAFTA Negotiations and Access to Medicines

The United States Trade Representative has forced down the throats of Central American countries enhanced patent protections. If the Bush administration succeeds in ramming the agreement through the U.S. Congress, the result will be that people die.
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The United States Trade Representative has forced down the throats of Central American countries enhanced patent protections. If the Bush administration succeeds in ramming the agreement through the U.S. Congress, the result will be that people die.

USTR should today be ashamed, rather than crowing.

By prioritizing the super-profit demands of Big Pharma over public health imperatives, USTR has ignited an additional group of opponents of CAFTA in Congress.

The actual CAFTA text remains secret — secret only from the public; negotiators and business know what has been agreed on — but all indications are that USTR has achieved the Big Pharma agenda of demanding a range of provisions that will delay the entry of price-lowering generic competition for medicines. These provisions include:

-Monopolistic protections for safety and efficacy test data needed to obtain marketing approval for pharmaceuticals.

-Patent-term extensions.

-Requirements that marketing approval be linked to patent status, turning drug regulatory agencies into patent enforcement bodies.

-Limitations on the grounds under which compulsory licenses may be issued (conflicting reports have emerged as to whether the U.S. is demanding such provisions — as it is in the Free Trade Area of the Americas — in CAFTA).

-Investment protections, based on NAFTA’s notorious Chapter 11, that would deter compulsory licensing and generic competition.

There is no defensible reason to include intellectual property rules in CAFTA. All negotiating countries are members of the WTO, and bound by its intellectual property rules. All agreed to the Doha Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and the Public Health, requiring countries to implement the WTO agreement in a fashion that would “protect public health and, in particular, … promote access to medicines for all.” Inclusion of IP in CAFTA can only mean countries will be more protective of Big Pharma’s interest, at the expense of expedited introduction of price-lowering generic competition, and at the expense of their obligations under the Doha Declaration.

Essential Action is a Washington, D.C. corporate accountability group. It focuses on intellectual property and global health issues.