UN expert concerned US-Peru free trade accord could deprive poor of medicine

UN News Centre

UN expert concerned US-Peru free trade accord could deprive poor of medicine

13 July 2005

With many Peruvians already dying from treatable illness due to difficulties in accessing drugs, a United Nations human rights expert today voiced deep concern that an eventual United States-Peru Free Trade Agreement (FTA) could deprive millions more of essential drugs made unaffordable by stronger protection of patents.

"I am concerned that the US-Peru free trade negotiations could lead to higher protection of patents than is currently required under the rules of the World Trade Organization (WTO)," the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, Paul Hunt, said.

"Higher protection of patents could restrict Governments from taking action to protect the right to health in the future," he added in a statement, calling for an express safeguard in any FTA recognizing the right and duty of countries to protect human life and health.

"A year ago, I indicated my deep concern that the US-Peru trade agreement would water down internationally agreed health standards, leading to higher prices for essential drugs that millions of Peruvians would find unaffordable. I continue being concerned today as negotiations on key issues draw to a close."

Mr. Hunt warned the Peruvian Government of the effects of the FTA on the right to health, in particular through introduction of patent protection stronger than required under WTO rules, and said it should ensure that it can introduce complementary measures to protect the poor from bearing the costs of the FTA.

Over 50 per cent of Peruvians live in poverty, while almost 25 per cent live in extreme poverty, and Mr. Hunt noted that a Peruvian Health Ministry study on the potential effects of the FTA on access to medicines showed that between 700,000 to 900,000 people would be excluded without a ministry budget increase or a rise in household income for the poor.

The first year of the FTA would require additional increase in spending of $34.4 million, of which $29 million would fall on families and the rest on the ministry. He said the Government should ensure that it can introduce complementary measures to protect the poor from bearing the costs of the FTA.

The UN World Health Organization (WHO) recently noted that while patents are not the only barriers to access to life-saving medicines, they can play a significant, or even dominant, role since they grant the patent holder a monopoly on a medicine for a number of years.

"Any standards introduced under the FTA on intellectual property protection - and patents more specifically - should include an express safeguard recognizing the right and duty of countries to protect human life and health," Mr. Hunt said.

The right of countries to adopt measures to protect public health and nutrition is enshrined in the WTO’s Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).

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