Developed countries stop using arm-twisting measures in FTAs

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In Guatemala the prices of some drugs went up by 845,000 times
The European Union’s actions are a direct threat to access to safe, effective and affordable medicines across the developing world. The European Union is demanding longer patents through free trade agreements (FTAs), longer than demanded by the World Trade Organization. Negotiations on drug price with over 90 low income countries become difficult with patents, for example, in countries like Guatemala the prices of some drugs went up by 845,000 times. Read more

European Commission (EC) is demanding such patents from 90 developing countries, including one of the poorest nations in the world. EC is also negotiating such an agreement with India, and want the negotiation to be done by end of this year. “We all know India produces 92% of generic medicines in the world, and what would happen to those countries that rely from imports from India, if India agrees to EC” wondered Sanya Reid Smith from Third World Network.

Anand Grover, UN Special Rapportuer on Right to Health said: “In the year 2000, the price of one year of ART was USD 15,000 that was brought down to USD 80 per year due to generic competition. The World Trade Organisation (WTO) through TRIPS mandated that every country should have patents for 20 years, and also gave the flexibility to developing countries. But through TRIPS Plus/ free trade agreements (FTAs) what developed countries like US, Japan or regions like EU are trying to do actually goes beyond TRIPS. For example, with TRIPS the patent term was for 20 years, they want patent term extension – so patent term will be for a longer duration than 20 years.”

“They (through FTAs) also want other provisions, linking patents with drug regulatory regimes (patent linkage), through data exclusivity. All these actually impact how generics come into the country – they delay the onset of generics in a country. Instead of allowing competition immediately after the patent term is over, they restrict generic competition. It is because of generic competition that we could have such reduced prices. All such measures are what is called as the ‘TRIPS Plus’ measures, attempt to delay the generic competition” said Anand Grover, UN Special Rapportuer on Right to Health.

“These agreements are thrust upon a country when they are not even supposed to have signed TRIPS. For example, countries from the Francophone Africa, they are among the least developed countries in the world, and they were supposed to sign TRIPS by only 2016, but you would not believe it that TRIPS agreement was actually complied with by large number of these countries even before India did. So they have so called ‘good laws’ for the “West” and very bad laws for their own countries” added Anand Grover.

“These negotiations aren’t done across the table in arms’ length negotiations. They are done through special conditions put by developed countries on developing countries, like trade barriers. These are the types of arm twisting measures developed countries resort. So any type of FTAs do not allow access to medicine at an affordable price, but delay generic competition and thereby promote monopoly. My report, which is the first report as UN Special Rapportuer, has highlighted this and I will call upon the developed countries not to use such arm twisting measures” said Anand Grover, who apart from being the UN Special Rapportuer is also a reputed lawyer of Supreme Court of India and heads Lawyers’ Collective.

Without the continued supply of safe, effective and affordable generic HIV medicines, the future of universal access looks bleak. Higher prices mean fewer people on ARVs; for those already on treatment newer treatment will not be available when resistance develops.

Bobby Ramakant – CNS
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Published in: Thai-Indian News, Bangkok, Thailand

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