New Trade Agreement Language To Allow Developing Countries More Flexibility in Circumventing Drug Patents, Other Restrictions
Democratic lawmakers and U.S. trade officials are in the final stages of negotiation over language to be added to international free trade agreements that would allow developing countries more flexibility in circumventing drug patents and other restrictions on pharmaceuticals, sources said recently, CongressDaily reports. The new text would bring exceptions to intellectual property law closer in line with the World Trade Organization-endorsed Doha Declaration, which is aimed at lowering trade barriers to promote economic development in poorer nations. Doha also aims to ensure that developing countries can take steps to protect public health, including issuing compulsory licenses to override patents.
According to CongressDaily, the issue of compulsory licensing has "taken on increased importance" with recent moves by Thailand and Brazil to manufacture generic versions of antiretroviral drugs and other medications. Thirty-five House Democrats, led by Reps. Henry Waxman (Calif.) and Tom Allen (Maine), in a letter released on Wednesday criticized U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab for placing Thailand on a priority watch list in the trade office's annual report. They also called on Schwab to reverse the designation. "It is difficult to interpret this decision as anything other than retaliation for Thailand's recent actions," the letter said, adding, "It sends a troubling message, not only to Thailand but to the whole world, that the exercise of recognized public health flexibilities in trade obligations is frowned upon by" the U.S.
Intellectual property and health provisions were among the "final sticking points" in negotiations over the trade agreement language between House Ways and Means Subcommittee Chair Sander Levin (D-Mich.), Ways and Means Committee Chair Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) and the Bush administration, CongressDaily reports. Robert Weissman, director of Essential Action, said, "Where the rubber hits the road is on data exclusivity and compulsory licensing. The question is: Is data exclusivity going to be an effective prohibition on compulsory licensing?" He added, "If the U.S. is able to get more and more countries to adopt these standards, it becomes increasingly difficult for the remaining ones to resist doing more than (multilateral agreements) require." The language has not been completed, but U.S. trade officials hope to finalize in time for agreements with Panama and South Korea to be signed next week (Vaughan, CongressDaily, 6/21).
In related news, 61% of U.S. adults say they believe that developing countries should be allowed to issue compulsory licenses for antiretroviral drugs if doing so would enable more people to access treatment, according to a recent poll, the Wall Street Journal reports.
The Wall Street Journal Online/Harris Interactive Health Care poll included 2,246 adults and was conducted between June 11 and June 13. According to the findings, 57% of people said they supported Brazil's decision to issue a compulsory license for Merck's antiretroviral efavirenz and provide a lower-cost generic version to residents, while 20% of respondents said they oppose the licensing. The poll also found 33% of respondents said they believe that breaking drug patents on antiretrovirals hinders development of new drugs, while 40% of respondents said they disagree with that statement.
Three-quarters of survey respondents said condom education and distribution programs are the most effective methods of preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS; 51% said the best method is through abstinence education programs; and 38% said abstinence programs hinder, rather than help, efforts to fight HIV/AIDS. The poll also showed that 40% of those surveyed said they believe the HIV/AIDS pandemic has become worse during the last five years; 16% said they felt conditions have improved; and 32% said conditions have remained steady (Bright, Wall Street Journal, 6/20).