U.S. Blocking of Canadian Generic Drug Plan Would Be ‘Staggering Display of Bad Faith,’ Nation Columnist Says
"Fighting AIDS was supposed to show George W. Bush's softer side," but he seems to have "reconsidered" by nominating "Big Pharma boss" Randall Tobias to lead the initiative, breaking his "$3 billion promise" and potentially blocking a plan to send lower-cost antiretroviral drugs to developing nations, Naomi Klein writes in her column in the Nation magazine (Klein, Nation, 10/27). Although the measure (HR 1298) supporting the United States' five-year, $15 billion global AIDS initiative authorizes $3 billion for the first year of the program, the Bush administration has requested that Congress appropriate $2 billion (Kaiser Daily Reproductive Health Report, 10/16). Although a deal established by the World Trade Organization to expand access to antiretroviral drugs for developing countries "seemed unworkable" when the United States -- "at the behest of the pharmaceutical lobby" --secured numerous conditions for the agreement, the Canadian government has announced plans to put the agreement into practice, Klein says (Nation, 10/27). Canadian officials and representatives from the country's drug industry have given their support to plans to alter the country's pharmaceutical drug patent laws in accordance with the WTO agreement to allow the production and exportation of generic drugs to countries that cannot afford patented drugs and who do not have the ability to manufacture generics themselves (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 10/8). The pharmaceutical lobby opposes the move, and now "all eyes are on Washington" to see if the Bush administration will try to block or "water ... down" the Canadian initiative, Klein says.
Canadian officials are concerned that the Bush administration will use the North American Free Trade Agreement to block the plan (Nation, 10/27). Although the United States has signed the WTO agreement, because the agreement has not also been copied into NAFTA, Canada needs waivers from the U.S. and other NAFTA partners to move ahead with the plan (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 10/8). Using NAFTA to "kill or weaken the plan just when promises are turning into medicines ... would be a staggering display of bad faith, even by Bush standards," Klein says, adding that although Canada could win a NAFTA challenge, there is "no indication" that the country is "up for the fight." The "first test" of whether Tobias, former CEO of Eli Lilly and recently appointed State Department Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator, will keep the Bush administration's promise of "not us[ing] the job to do Big Pharma's bidding," will be whether he "declare[s] war on an initiative that could save millions of lives," Klein concludes (Nation, 10/27).