Bush Signs CAFTA; AIDS Advocates Concerned Trade Pact Will Negatively Affect Access to Antiretrovirals
President Bush on Tuesday signed into law the Central American Free Trade Agreement, a deal aimed at reducing trade barriers between the U.S. and six Central American nations that supporters have said will stimulate economic and democratic growth in the region, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. "This is more than a trade bill," Bush said during a signing ceremony at the White House, adding that the deal will help protect the six signatories -- Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic -- against "forces that oppose democracy, seek to limit economic freedom, and want to drive a wedge between the United States and the rest of the Americas" (Armstrong, San Francisco Chronicle, 8/3). However, some international health advocates say the agreement could limit access to medical treatment, including HIV/AIDS-related drugs, for thousands of poor people in Central America. CAFTA eliminates tariffs and other barriers to trade in goods, agricultural services, investment and the imposition of intellectual property rights on medicines. AIDS advocates worry that the agreement also could place limitations on compulsory licensing, which allows a government to authorize itself or a third party to make a generic version of a patented product, including antiretroviral drugs, with payment of reasonable compensation to the patent holder. However, some analysts have said that a side letter to CAFTA states that the patent-protection provisions in the agreement should not affect government AIDS treatment programs. The House approved the measure by two votes last week, and the Senate approved the pact last month (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 7/28).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.