Bangkok Post: US pressures Thailand on its CL stance

Bangkok Post
April 27, 2008

US pressures Thailand on its CL stance
Kingdom one of nine countries on watch list

By Post reporters

The United States’ decision to keep Thailand as one of nine countries on its watch list due to concerns over intellectual property rights problems has angered activists, who say Washington is protecting pharmaceutical makers at the expense of better health for the Thai public. The Office of the US Trade Representative is keeping the kingdom on its Priority Watch List because it is worried about its continuing policy on compulsory licensing, initiated by the previous government.

The situation remains unchanged under the present administration.

”While the United States recognises the importance of Thailand’s public health challenges, Thailand’s recent policies and actions regarding the compulsory licensing of patented medicines have contributed to concerns regarding the adequate and effective protection of IPR in Thailand,” the USTR said in a report released in Washington on Friday.

”The United States is awaiting further information on the new Thai government’s approach in this area and hopes to work constructively on this and other IPR issues in order to strengthen Thailand’s IPR regime,” it added.

The US said it wanted more action from Thai authorities to crack down on piracy.

Last year when the US put Thailand on the list, the US administration denied the decision was linked to the compulsory licensing policy.

But this year, its statement makes clear that the CL policy is one factor keeping it on the list.

There are eight other countries on the Priority Watch List, including China and Russia, the two countries which cause the US most concern over intellectual rights violations.

Nimit Tienudom, director of the Aids Access Foundation, said Washington ”wants to protect its own trade benefits without respecting the desire of other middle-income countries like Thailand to extend medical access at all”.

Thailand and its supporters have cited World Trade Organisation rules which allow for compulsory licensing in national emergencies or justified non-commercial cases.

They allow Thailand to produce or import generic versions of medicines for local use. Patent holders can receive some royalties but they complain the scheme violates their intellectual property rights.

Aat Pisanwanich, director of the Centre for International Trade Studies at the Thai Chamber of Commerce University, said other countries should not use the policy to threaten Thailand’s stance on healthcare.

The government should allocate sufficient funds to improve the universal healthcare regime, he said.

Essential Action, a non-profit organisation in the US which monitors the issue, said Washington was favouring medicine producers.

”USTR knows it has no reasonable complaint against Thailand, but Big Pharma wants it to say something,” director Robert Weissman said.

Deputy director-general of the Intellectual Property Department Wiboonlasana Ruamraksa said Thailand worked closely with the US in clamping down on all forms of counterfeit products, but Washington was still of the view that its efforts were not adequate, especially legal action taken against pirates and counterfeiters.

The issue will be taken up in talks tomorrow between USTR officials and Commerce Minister Mingkwan Sangsuwan.

Foreign Minister Noppadon Pattama declined to comment on the USTR move until he had studied the report.

The minister lobbied US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during his visit to the US in March to remove Thailand from the Priority Watch List.

In the report, the US said it was looking forward to working with the elected government on better enforcement and intellectual rights protection.

It is in line with the stance by US Trade Representative Susan Schwab.

”The administration will continue to defend vigorously American innovation. US leadership remains critical to improving the global IPR climate,” she said