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Doctors urge US to oppose FTA

The Age, Melbourne

Doctors urge US to oppose FTA

16 June 2004

(AAP) A doctors group has written to American lawmakers urging them to oppose the Australia-United States free trade agreement (FTA).

The Doctors Reform Society (DRS), plus a range of other public health groups, have written to Congress members, warning the deal will hurt Australian and American citizens.

It follows a report commissioned by a Senate committee into the impact of the FTA which has found the deal will delay the introduction of generic drugs on to the Australian market.

This in turn will push up the costs of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).

The government has consistently rejected any notion the FTA will affect the PBS or drug prices.

This week, Health Minister Tony Abbott said the government would not agree with any deal which undermined the PBS.

But DRS national vice president Tracy Schrader said it was not realistic to accept the government’s assertions in the face of the new study and other evidence presented to the Senate committee.

"It is unrealistic to hope that this agreement will not affect the cost of medicines," she said in a statement.

"The intent of the US government and US pharmaceutical companies has been clear right from the beginning.

"The ANU report confirms other evidence presented to the inquiry and what we knew. The PBS will cost more."

Dr Schrader said US drug companies had openly sought to use the FTA to drive up pharmaceutical prices in Australia.

"Australia’s PBS is widely regarded as one of the most efficient schemes in the world and has provided all Australians with equitable and affordable access to essential medicines," she said in a statement.

"It is scandalous that we are handing these policy decisions over to a trade agreement with a country where 40 per cent of its citizens cannot afford necessary drugs and many must go to Canada and Mexico to buy them."

The letter follows a letter from the Australian Democrats to Congress members urging a no vote to the FTA.

A key Senate Democrat, Max Baucus, has thrown his support behind the agreement which is likely to go to a vote next month.