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US action plan must be opposed, groups tell govt

The Nation, Bangkok

US action plan must be opposed, groups tell govt

Plan full of drug licensing demands, not IP protection, Aids activists say

By Pennapa Hongthong

9 May 2007

Aids activists and academics called on the Commerce Ministry yesterday to reject the "action plan" proposed by the United States to remove Thailand from its priority watch list for intellectual property protection.

Jon Ungphakorn, secretary-general of the Aids Access Foundation, said if the government agreed with the action plan, not only would its use of compulsory licensing to make generic copies of patented drugs for medical emergencies be more restricted, it would also have to tighten drug patents for US companies.

After insisting last week that the downgrading of Thailand’s trade status reflected increased piracy of CDs and software, the US Trade Representative (USTR) came up with an action plan full of demands to tighten Thailand’s drug patenting system, he said.

Kannikar Kijtiwatchakul, from FTA Watch, said the demands listed in the action plan were similar to those the US made in its talks with the Thai government about a free-trade agreement.

He said the key demands were an extension of drug patents from the normal 20 years to compensate for administrative delays in granting patents; imposition of data-exclusivity provisions, which mean a delay in the production of general versions of patent-expired drugs reaching the market; expansion of drug patents to cover the diagnosis process and surgery; and restricting reasons for the Thai government to issue compulsory licences.

Commerce Ministry officials are due to meet representatives of the US on the action plan on Friday.

Vithaya Kulsomboon, a pharma-cology lecturer at Chulalongkorn University, said that helping people with HIV get access to cheaper drugs, and lead normal lives, would boost the Thai economy much more than trade privileges from the US.

"The Commerce Ministry should place more concern on the lives of patients not on commercial profit," Jon said. And the ministry should not be afraid of pressure from the US, as the government was not alone in the struggle for easier access to key medicines.

Last Friday, the Brazilian president issued a compulsory licence to allow the import of a generic version of Efavirenz, after the drug’s patent holder Merck & Co failed to match the 60-per-cent price reduction requested.

Jon hoped that more developing countries would follow suit. Many developing countries want to use compulsory licensing as allowed by the World Trade Organisation, but were afraid of US economic sanctions, he said.

"This is not just a fight for Thai patients, but for all in developing countries," he said.