Removal of Thailand from U.S. Trade Representative’s Priority Watch List Would ‘Undermine Rule of Law,’ Opinion Piece Says
The "protest" by 35 House Democrats against U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab's decision to place Thailand on a priority watch list of countries violating intellectual property laws "demonstrates an uncanny instinct for getting things wrong," Ronald Cass, chair of the Center for the Rule of Law and former commissioner and vice chair of the U.S. International Trade Commission, writes in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece. He adds that if their "intervention is not rebuffed, it would also undermine the rule of law" (Cass, Wall Street Journal, 7/2).
The 35 House Democrats, led by Reps. Henry Waxman (Calif.) and Tom Allen (Maine), in a letter released last month criticized Schwab for including Thailand on the 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" steps to issue compulsory licenses to manufacture generic versions of antiretroviral drugs and other medications, 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. (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 6/22).
The lawmakers' "demand" sends a "signal that the U.S. would be making a disastrous turn to policies that discourage innovation, reduce productivity and lower economic growth," Cass writes. The lawmakers also "insist" that Schwab "broadly support compulsory licensing for any nation wanting lower costs for patented drugs in the short term -- even if that violates" the World Trade Organization's Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, "reduces incentives for drug companies to invest in new drugs" and "takes away a bargaining chip useful to future negotiations," he adds. Congress is "not institutionally equipped nor constitutionally empowered to exercise executive authority," Cass writes, asking that if Waxman and his colleagues "get to remove countries they like from the Priority Watch list, what is to stop them, or others, from adding countries they dislike?" Cass writes that Schwab, who has until July 9 to reply to the letter, should "explain this" point, adding that if Waxman and his colleagues "can't get the easy case right, there's little hope they'll do better on harder ones yet to come" (Wall Street Journal, 7/2).