U.S. Advocates Protest U.S.-Thai Free Trade Agreement; U.S. Officials Say Agreement Will Not Affect Drug Access
Thirty representatives from U.S. nongovernmental organizations on Wednesday gathered at the U.S. Trade Representative's office to protest a proposed Free Trade Agreement that is being negotiated this week between the U.S. and Thailand, Agence France-Presse reports (Agence France-Presse , 1/11). Thailand and U.S. officials are meeting in Thailand's northern city of Chiang Mai for the sixth round of talks on the agreement and are seeking to finalize the deal, which aims to foster trade between the two countries. Some HIV/AIDS advocates oppose a proposal by the U.S. to extend patent protection for drugs developed by U.S. companies to 25 years because they fear it could limit drug access for HIV-positive Thai people. About 10,000 demonstrators, including more than 2,000 HIV/AIDS advocates, on Monday gathered at the U.S. consulate in Chiang Mai to protest the proposed agreement (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 1/9). The U.S. advocates said their demonstration was to show support for the protesters in Chiang Mai (Agence France-Presse , 1/11). U.S. officials on Tuesday said that patent issues discussed in the proposed FTA will not affect access to drugs, including antiretrovirals, used by Thai patients (Maneerungsee/Chantanusornsiri, Bangkok Post, 1/11). "Nothing in the FTA will affect the price of generic pharmaceutical drugs, including HIV medicines that are now publicly available in Thailand," chief U.S. negotiator Barbara Weisel said (Agence France-Presse , 1/11). Neena Moorjani, a spokesperson for the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, added, "Our objective is to promote the development of new drugs while ensuring access to medicines so ... patients will continue to be able to obtain the newest and most effective medicines" (Bangkok Post, 1/11). Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said, "I want to reassure protesters that my government will not sign the agreement if I find that we do not benefit from it" (AP/Guardian, 1/10). The talks, which the U.S. hopes will lay the groundwork to allow agreements to be finalized this spring, are expected to last until Friday (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 1/9).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.