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Intellectual Property: We must not make any concession on medicines

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Translated by Anoosha Boralessa (Jan 2016). Not reviewed by or any other organization or person

El Pais | Cali (Colombia) | 23 August 2004

Intellectual Property: We must not make any concession on medicines

Author: Guiovana Fuentes

Source: El Pais

The Colombian Germán Velásquez says that it was unfair for the US to veto the Argentine advisor Carlos Correa. He claims that poor countries must continue to have access to cheap medicines even if there are trade treaties. His request is that the Doha agreement is respected.

For Colombians to continue to have access to high quality medicines and better prices, our negotiators of the free trade agreement (the FTA) with the United States must not even cede a millimetre on patents.

So claimed the Colombian, Germán Velásquez, medicines coordinator at the World Health Organization (WHO). He pointed out that in the contrary case, developing countries would lose the benefits they won in the Doha trade round in Quatar in 2001.

The High Official, decorated by the Congress of the Republic with the Order of the Democracy, defended the access of those ill with Aids in Africa to generic medicines to treat their illness.

What are the risks for Colombia in the FTA negotiation on medicines?
Everything that is contrary to the Doha Agreement. This negotiation was complex and it was clear that the right to health trumps any trade obligation.

In this regard, the WHO played a very important role and Carlos Correa, who currently advises Andean countries on the FTA, examined every aspect so that developing countries could have access to medicines. This represented a huge win.

Accordingly, to cede even a millimetre, is a grave risk for Colombia. It should not yield in any way on what was agreed.

Why does the United States declare that with generics, its scientific breakthroughs and those of other countries are not recognized?

In Doha, it was put on record that patents in respect of medicines cannot be the equivalent of patents for computers.

Also there, the agreement on intellectual property rights relating to trade and medicines achieved recognition. This means mandatory licenses may be used.

In other words, a government may have to withdraw a patent from an owner to facilitate “generic medicine” manufacturing.

What is there for certain that the Government wants to defend multinationals more than local laboratories?

The Ministry for Welfare has insisted that Colombia’s advisor is Argentine Carlos Correa. I know enough to say that the negotiators’ position, under the instructions of Minister Palacio, is to listen to Correa. They are not in the anyway there way to defend transnational industry.

The Minister is heading the defence of access to medicines for the population.

Why is it said then that the Minister of Trade is reluctant to continue to protect the national pharmaceutical industry?
Four months ago, the talk was that the Foreign Trade Ministry was negotiating and keeping the Health Ministry informed. Now I have heard Palacio literally saying:
“I decide what relates to health and I inform Trade.”

A few days ago I had a conversation with him and his position was that the tiniest concessions will not be made in the health sector.

It is till too early to know to what extent he will now have to make concessions from one side or the other. The only thing I know is that the Colombian negotiators of intellectual property are so tough on this issue.

With what handicaps is Colombia entering the Third Round in Puerto Rico, given that it has agreed to remove Correa from its negotiating group?

I understand that Carlos Correa will be in the so-called control room where the Council of Ministers operates. If this is the case, it means that they are the ones that are going to give instructions to the negotiators.

In this way, I do not see any serious change on the “Argentine” issue. If the Colombian Government stands firm and is going to pay attention to his recommendations, we’ll be fine. It would have been much more delicate if the government team, succumbing to pressures imposed by the North Americans, indicated that they would not wish to have any input from the Argentine.

Can you veto a negotiator on the grounds that he is a foreigner as the United States did with the Argentine expert Carlos Correa?

That is a worrying precedent that has no foundation in the WTO nor in other bilateral treaties. There are other cases where public health negotiators that defend the interests of multinationals were able to participate at the negotiating table, even though they are foreigners.

If Colombia has already extended patents on scientific research by five years, why would it be impacted by a bad negotiation?

Regarding Decree 2085 that addresses the issue of extending patents in medicines, there is a serious risk for the country. As it is a Decree, the Government can modify it at any time, if it consider that it does not conform to national interests. But when it is conceded, as the North American negotiators are requesting, that it is tied up to the FTA, matters would be more complex. This is because if the spirit of that norm is violated, it would be possible to speak of a violation of a bilateral agreement with the United States.

And what will be your role?
When the Minister for Welfare gave a speech in the House of Representatives, he insisted that he had recently requested the WHO that I continue advising on the FTA. I am going to continue to do it from the sidelines.

The stats: It cost Colombia 594 million dollars in 2001 to import pharmaceutical products.