Don't trade away health in the FTAA

Miami - At this pivotal point in FTAA negotiations, the international medical humanitarian organization Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) today called on trade ministers to exclude intellectual property (IP) provisions from the FTAA negotiations. MSF urged Latin American and Caribbean governments to resist United States pressure to impose patent rules that are more stringent than required by the World Trade Organization (WTO) in the FTAA as well as in regional or bilateral trade agreements. This demand to keep intellectual property out of FTAA has been supported by more than 35,000 individuals and over 70 organizations representing tens of thousands of people from 124 countries in a petition delivered to trade ministers today. "Making patent rules in Latin America more stringent than WTO rules mandate is likely to have fatal consequences for the estimated 200,000 people living with HIV/AIDS in Latin America and the Caribbean today who are in urgent clinical need of antiretroviral treatment," said Dr. Luis Villa, Head of Mission, MSF Guatemala. "No doctor should be faced with turning away patients who can't afford treatment because trade negotiators extended monopolies on life-saving medicines. Human lives must not be bargained over like cars or toys." The draft IP proposals in the FTAA text - largely written under pressure from the United States - would make IP protection in this region among the most stringent in the world and stamp out generic competition which has been proven to dramatically reduce the cost of life-saving medicines. For example, patent terms on all new medicines, not just those needed to treat HIV/AIDS, will be extended beyond the 20 years required by the WTO Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement. Furthermore, countries will no longer have the ability to decide for themselves when to issue compulsory licenses to overcome patent barriers. In addition, new proposals would provide originator pharmaceutical companies with five years of exclusivity on pharmaceutical test data which would in effect give them five years of monopoly rights. The Guatemalan government enacted a similar provision in April 2003, making Guatemala the only country in Central America to have such restrictions on test data. If this provision is extended to the entire region through the FTAA, generic competition will be delayed — even where there are no patent barriers. For the 1.9 million people living with HIV/AIDS in Latin America and the Caribbean, five years without access to affordable antiretroviral medicines would be a death sentence. "Countries must not trade away health by accepting proposals that undermine their right to make full use of flexibilities in international trade rules to ‘protect public health and promote access to medicines for all,' as stated in the Doha Declaration on TRIPS and Public Health," stated Rachel Cohen, US director of MSF's Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines. "The Doha Declaration must be the ceiling for intellectual property protection related to health, not the floor."