US firm on IP rights protection

Bangkok Post, 9 April 2005

US firm on IP rights protection

Third round of FTA talks wrapped up

ACHARA ASHAYAGACHAT & WORANUJ MANEERUNGSEE

Pattaya - The United States has insisted on keeping the issue of intellectual property (IP) rights in the Free Trade Area agreement that it is negotiating with Thailand as both sides wrapped up their third round of talks yesterday.

Thai activists have feared the agreement would result in more expensive drugs for consumers, particularly for people with HIV/Aids, but the US chief negotiator dismissed the worry.

Barbara Weisel argued there were several reasons to strengthen the protection of IP rights including the need to attract foreign direct investment.

The US is a major centre for research and development in both scientific and artistic fields and, only by attaining strong IP protection regime, could the US attract artists and scientists to create, Ms Weisel said in reference to the much-debated issue at the week-long negotiations here.

"It’s the underlined concept that both sides think is important and I think the Thai public should understand that, and we do not consider dropping it from the negotiations," she said.

She assured the FTA agreement would not affect drug prices in Thailand, saying IP protection would promote the development and production of more novel and generic drugs while ensuring timely access to lifesaving drugs for Thai patients.

Thai chief negotiator Nitya Pibulsonggram said both sides also recognised obligations under the Doha Declaration that allows compulsory licence for essential drugs in cases of emergency and this provision would be observed.

The third round of talks saw three issues _ financial services, government procurement, and customs procedure _ excluded from the table while another 19 issues were widely discussed and will be further taken up in the next round in Montana in July, Mr Nitya said.

In Montana, both sides would exchange the list of initial offers, further discuss US farm subsidies of rice, corn, and soy bean which would hit Thai farmers hard, and also sanitary and phytosanitary standards (SPS), which block Thai exports of certain fruits and vegetables.

On the services issue, Virachai Palasai, deputy head of the Foreign Ministry’s International Economics Department, said the two sides exchanged preliminary stances on sectoral commitment, most-favoured nation status for counterparts, and mutual recognition of professional qualifications.

On investment, the two sides exchanged views on liberalisation of investment in such sectors as manufacturing and mining while agreeing to explore settlement mechanism for state-investor disputes.

Thailand had no objection to the arbitrator mechanism as it would not undermine the judicial sovereignty of Thailand because an arbitration system has yet to be implemented under the Thai judicial procedure, Mr Virachai said.

Mr Nitya claimed as an achievement the US promise to consider opening the boiled chicken market and reducing barriers to trade in six categories including longan, mangosteen, lychee, mango, rambutan, and pineapple.

But a coalition of Thai civic groups, the FTA Watch, expressed disappointment there was no assurance from either side the pact would not go beyond the World Trade Organisation’s requirements, especially on the IP rights issue where the US has demanded stringent protection.

"Several US congressmen and lobbyists have been visiting Thailand, which means they want more than they can get from the multilateral negotiations," said Kingkorn Narintarakul, an FTA Watch activist.

source: Bangkok Post