US Trade Rep: Thailand On Watch List

by Ed Silverman
Published at

The patent dispute with Thailand is about to get hotter.

Although the US Trade Rep previously indicated that Bangkok hasn’t violated world trade rules, the office this morning placed the Thai goverment on its Priority Watch list. This is reserved for countries that don’t “provide an adequate level of intellectual property rights protection or enforcement, or market access for persons relying on intellectual property protection.”

There are 11 other nations on this year’s list: Argentina, Chile, China, Egypt, India, Israel, Lebanon, Russia, Turkey, Ukraine, and Venezuela. Thailand was added after recently issuing compulsory licenses on three drugs, which sparked outrage by drugmakers, notably Abbott, which retaliated by refusing to sell new meds there.

“In announcing the elevation of Thailand to the Priority Watch List, the report cites a range of intellectual property concerns, including deteriorating protection for patents and copyrights. Priority Watch List countries will be the subject of particularly intense engagement through bilateral discussion during the coming year,” say the federal office. “While the United States acknowledges a country’s ability to issue such licenses in accordance with WTO rules, the lack of transparency and due process exhibited in Thailand represents a serious concern.”

“This report underscores the Administration’s scrutiny in pinpointing challenges in protecting IPR and signals to our trading partners that effective IPR protection will remain a critical focus in US policy,” says US Trade Rep Susan Schwab.

The decision comes after numerous members of Congress, both Democrat and Republican, wrote Schwab and asked her to get tough with Bangkok. Last week, an advocacy group led by Ken Adelman, a member of the Defense Policy Board and a senior advisor to Edelman Public Relations, which reps Abbott, called for sanctions and an end to military aid to Thailand.

One activist, Robert Weissman, who heads Essential Action, called the decision “outrageous, cynical and shameful.” Conversely, Abbott’s Miles White should be encouraged by the move, which strongly suggests Washington is now going to get more involved in this controversy on big pharma’s side.