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US Muslim group seeks to nix US-Israel Free Trade agreement

Haaretz (Israel) | 23 April 2009

U.S. Muslim group seeks to nix U.S.-Israel Free Trade agreement

By Ronny Linder-Ganz

Global pharmaceuticals companies, which often argue that Israel should pass stricter legislation to protect intellectual property, have received support from an unexpected corner recently: the Institute for Research: Middle Eastern Policy (IRmep), a U.S.-based Muslim organization, has filed an urgent petition to the United States Trade Representative demanding the immediate suspension of preferential Israeli access to the U.S. market under the Free Trade Area agreement.

In a 92-page legal filing the organization claims that Israel repeatedly violates intellectual property rights in the military and pharmaceutical industries, among other allegations.

This is the first time that an organization with openly political motives has become involved in a professional dispute between states affecting pharmaceuticals.

According to the petition, for the past three years the Ministry of Health and Israeli pharmaceutical manufacturers have been placed on USTR watch lists "for practices that cost U.S. manufacturers billions of dollars." The petition contains numerous examples of alleged Israeli violations of U.S. intellectual property rights in various areas. These include some overtly political claims, for instance, that illegal settlements are being financed through the export of cut diamonds to the U.S.

Israel is taking the petition seriously. The U.S. is already pressing Israel, with the encouragement of pharmaceutical giants, to enact stricter intellectual property protections.

Israel’s generic pharmaceutical industry, and above all Teva Pharmaceuticals, poses a threat to U.S. and international pharmaceutical manufacturers. This is particularly acute during the current economic crisis, which has given a push to cheaper generic drugs at the expense of their more expensive brandname counterparts.

An official from one of the ministries involved in the issue said that the US Trade Representative is obligated to respond to every petition. He said the institute’s petition set a dangerous precedent for transforming Israel’s professional dispute with the USTR into a political one.

Under U.S. law, the USTR must make public any investigation against Israel within 45 days.

 source: Haaretz