Thailand: Govt accused of lying about drugs in FTA Trade pact

The Nation | Bangkok | Jul 29, 2004

INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY

Govt accused of lying about drugs in FTA Trade pact will leave country at the mercy of US pharmaceuticals, seminar is warned

Arthit Khwankhom

The government lied when it said it would exclude medicines from the list of products included under the prospective freetrade agreement between Thailand and the United States, a seminar was told yesterday.

In the first round of FTA negotiations in the US yesterday, the two sides discussed amending three main areas of the Thai drug patent act, Department of Trade Negotiations assistant directorgeneral Wiboonlaksana Ruamraksa conceded.

Intellectual property is the main agenda of the US, and no country has ever signed an FTA with the US without accepting Washington’s condition of the recognition of drug patents, she added.

The three areas discussed included terms of protection, compulsory licensing and marketing approval for American drug patents in Thailand, according to Wiboonlaksana, who was on the Thai negotiating team.

“This means the government lied in announcing that drugs for people living with HIV/Aids were off the list,” said an academic representing the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) at the seminar.

On its website, the World Trade Organisation has posted cautions to countries planning to forge FTAs with the US, said the FDA representative, who did not want to be named.

In its warnings, the WTO cited the experiences of 20 countries suffering from the adverse effects of accepting US conditions on intellectual property rights for drugs, the FDA representative said.

She said drugs had become dramatically more expensive, the cost of healthcare in the countries had risen and access to treatment came under the sway of US pharmaceutical monopolies after signing an FTA.

As new diseases like Sars and bird flu emerge, the countries become dependent on new drugs, and to lift the drugs’ compulsory licensing and extend the life of drug patents would open them to American pharmaceutical monopolies, she added.

“Drugs are not like other products, such as apples, that we can choose not to buy,” she said, adding that not only Aids drugs, but other medicines would be out of reach due to very high prices under the FTA.

The seminar was held by the Office of National Economic and Social Advisory Council, in a bid to brainstorm the possible adverse effects of the FTA on the country’s pharmaceutical and health system.

The conclusions reached by the seminar will be discussed again, then aired at public hearings before being proposed to the government.

The seminar concluded that country’s pharmaceutical system - healthcare sectors both private and staterun, local drug manufacturing companies and consumers - would be severely affected if Thailand continues negotiations on drug patents.