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EFTA Free trade agreements: Norway asserts Human Rights, Switzerland supports companies

EFTA Free trade agreements: Norway asserts Human Rights, Switzerland supports companies

Alliance Sud, Berne Declaration | March 24, 2009

Media Release, Lausanne: A shadow has been cast over the parallel European Free Trade Association (EFTA) negotiations taking place with India and Colombia. EFTA member countries are Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Lichtenstein. The events have taken a complicated turn, with Norway withdrawing from talks on intellectual property rights, which is a serious priority for Switzerland. In addition, Norway deferred the submission for ratification by the Norwegian Parliament of the FTA with Colombia, an act seen by many as a move on the part of the Norwegians to renegotiate many terms within the agreement. This also shows the value Norway places on human rights over free trade. Two Swiss civil society groups, Alliance Sud and the Berne Declaration have asked Switzerland to do the same.

In an article published last Friday by the Norwegian newspaper Ny Tid, Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, Rikke Lind, said that Norway did not want intellectual property provisions to be part of the agreement negotiated between EFTA and India. She stressed that "Norway does not have a policy to force developing countries to accept an agreement that would reduce their political space in the field of intellectual property, going beyond their multilateral obligations." With this decision, Norway wants to ensure the production of generic drugs in India, which gives many developing countries access to affordable medicines. Actually, about half of the total medication for treatment against AIDS within developing countries is produced in India.

Switzerland plays a leading role in negotiations between EFTA countries and third party countries. One of its main objectives is to fully protect the interests of its pharmaceutical industry by ensuring stronger rules on intellectual property. Doing so, it aims to achieve what was not accepted at the multilateral level, through the World Trade Organization (WTO). Many countries have rejected the Swiss proposals, as they would undermine the fundamental right to health by restricting access to affordable medicines.

The delay in the ratification of the FTA with Colombia, on the part of Norway, is said to stem from human rights concerns. According to the Norwegian government, human rights must be taken into account in the agreement before it is submitted to parliament: "We are not satisfied with the way human rights and fundamental labour rights are dealt with in this agreement," said Finance Minister Kristin Halvorsen to the Norwegian press. The Colombian Minister of Commerce was invited to visit Norway for discussion. A joint delegation is expected to visit Colombia in June to further discuss the issue.

The Berne Declaration and Alliance Sud welcome the Norwegian position. They point out that Switzerland has signed the 2001 Doha Declaration, which guarantees access to essential medicines in the framework of the agreement on intellectual property of the WTO. They have repeatedly asked Switzerland to drop its claims in this matter in the bilateral negotiations. In the case of Colombia, the two organizations have also stressed violations of human rights in this country and claimed that compliance to human rights norms and conventions should prevail over commercial interests.

Translated from French by Susana Barria: Accords de libre-échange de l’AELE : la Norvège donne une leçon de droits humains à la Suisse

 source: FTA Watch - India