Oxfam: US free trade agreements block access to medicines

Published: 16 August 2006

International AIDS Conference 2006 Toronto – US efforts to introduce stronger intellectual property rules in bilateral trade agreements undermine the fight against AIDS by devastating the ability of developing countries to access affordable medicines, international agency Oxfam said today.

“Under the name of free trade, the US is pushing for monopoly on new medicines, thus driving up the cost for some of the world’s poorest people,” said Rohit Malpani, policy advisor for Oxfam International. “Neither patients nor governments will be able to afford the new antiretroviral medicines essential to address the pandemic.”

US free trade agreements severely restrict generic versions of new medicines, which is the only proven mechanism for lowering prices. Until generics came on the market, antiretroviral therapy cost $10,000 per patient per year. Thanks to generic competition, the price for these medicines in preferred fixed-dose combinations dropped to $140 year.

“After campaigning by NGOs and people living with disease, the World Trade Organization (WTO) reaffirmed public health flexibilities in intellectual property rules,” said Dr. Mohga Kamal-Yanni of Oxfam. “Now the US is systematically forcing poor countries to give up their rights and ability to protect public health.”

In the past five years the US has concluded negotiations with twelve developing countries. Each agreement includes intellectual property rules which exceed WTO standards and often exceed US law. The US is currently negotiating bilateral agreements with six others nations, including Thailand, Malaysia, Ecuador and Panama, as well as seeking regional negotiations with Southern Africa and the entire Western Hemisphere (FTAA). US bilateral trade agreements include provisions to:

  • expand the scope of pharmaceutical patents to include new indications, new formulations, and other minor changes;

  • limit grounds for issuing compulsory licenses to emergencies, government non-commercial use, and competition cases only;

  • bar parallel trade of on-patent drugs sold more cheaply elsewhere;

  • extend patent monopolies for administrative delays; and

  • enhance protections for clinical trial data by providing at least five years of data exclusivity and by linking drug registration rights to patent status.

"To confront the AIDS pandemic, countries need access to affordable medicines,” Malpani said. “The US must stop demanding new intellectual property rules in trade agreements."

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