United Nations Children’s Committee Warns About FTA Threats to Access to
Affordable Medicines and Social Services for the Poor
The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in recommendations made public
this week warned that Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) may negatively affect
access to affordable medicines and social services for the poor.
The Committee raised these concerns as a number of the countries monitored
at its 39th Session, from 16 May -3 June 2005, are either planning,
negotiating or in the process of ratifying FTAs. These countries include
Costa Rica, Ecuador, Nicaragua and the Philippines.
The Committee monitors the application of the Convention on the Rights of
the Child - the most widely applicable human rights treaty in the world.
All countries have ratified it, apart from the US and Somalia.
States have an obligation to take into account the best interests of the
child at all levels of decision-making, including trade policy, and are
required to fulfil their obligations under the Convention. These obligations
include access to affordable medicines and health care services, under the
child’s right to health (article 24) and the child’s right to life (article
It is important that civil society encourage States negotiating trade
agreements to take into account their human rights obligations at all times.
1. Costa Rica and Nicaragua: ratification of US-DR-CAFTA must not undermine
Costa Rica and Nicaragua are countries that have signed, but not yet
ratified, the US - Central American Free Trade Agreement (US-DR-CAFTA).
Other parties to this FTA include the Dominican Republic, El Salvador,
Guatemala and Honduras.
During the consideration of Nicaragua, the Committee raised concerns about
the impact of intellectual property (IP) rules in the FTA on the cost of
medicines and requested that Nicaragua “ensure that the Free Trade
Agreements do not negatively affect the rights of children, e.g. in terms of
access to affordable medicines.”
Regarding Costa Rica, the Committee experts asked whether there had been an
impact assessment of the US-DR CAFTA on the enjoyment of children’s rights.
Costa Rica replied that a national consultation open to all stakeholders
will be organized to assess the impact of the FTA. They affirmed that if
the FTA has no positive effect on social concerns, it will not be ratified.
Costa Rica said that it would provide the Committee with written information
on the results of the impact assessment.
2. Ecuador: US-Andean FTA negotiations must take into account access to
affordable medicines and social services
Ecuador is negotiating a US-Andean FTA, which includes Peru and Colombia.
The Committee was concerned that proposed IP rules may undermine the ability
of States to ensure access to affordable medicines and comply with their
obligations under human rights law. The Committee was also concerned that
FTAs “may also negatively impact the allocation of budgets for social
In view of this, the Committee strongly urged Ecuador to “ensure that Free
Trade Agreements do not negatively affect the rights of children, inter
alia, in terms of access to affordable medicines, including generic ones. In
this regard, the Committee reiterates the recommendations made by the
Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (E/C.12/1/Add.100).”
These recommendations referred to were made in June 2004 by another UN
Committee, urging Ecuador to “conduct an assessment of the effect of
international trade rules on the right to health for all and to make
extensive use of the flexibility clauses permitted in the WTO Agreement on
Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (the TRIPS Agreement)
in order to ensure access to generic medicine and more broadly the enjoyment
of the right to health for everyone in Ecuador.”
3. The Philippines: any future FTA negotiation must not undermine access to
The Philippines is negotiating a number of trade agreements and is planning
to negotiate a US-Philippines FTA. If negotiations do take place with the
US, there is a high risk that strict IP rules will be imposed that will
undermine the Filipino government’s ability to ensure access to affordable
Taking this into account, the Committee strongly urged the Filipino
government to “make use - in the negotiations of a Free Trade Agreement - of
all the flexibilities reaffirmed by the Doha Declaration and the mechanisms
at its disposal to ensure access to affordable medicines in particular for
the poor and most vulnerable children and their parents.”