[Ip-health] Come clean on EU trade pact

Kannikar Kijtiwatchakul kakablueblue at gmail.com
Thu Aug 16 22:03:38 PDT 2012

Bangkok Post

 Come clean on EU trade pact

   - Published:
01:52 AM
   - Newspaper section:

      The charter has made it very clear. If the government wants to enter
into an international trade agreement which will have a big impact on
society and public well-being, it must reveal the information and organise
public hearings for stakeholders before getting approval from parliament.

The key words are transparency and public interest. It is a cause of worry,
therefore, that the Pheu Thai Party-led government _ in its eagerness to
ink a bilateral trade agreement with the European Union _ is bypassing
policy transparency and the public interest by withholding information from
the public on how gravely the agreement stands to affect public access to
affordable medicine.

In addition, the government is also showing an intention to bypass the
mandatory public hearings altogether.

Consumers and public health civic groups are crying foul. On the issue of
drugs' intellectual property rights, it has been Thailand's policy all
along not to concede more than what is required by the World Trade
Organisation (WTO), which still allows member countries to produce
life-saving generic drugs to deal with public health crises such as the HIV
and Aids epidemic.

The EU, however, is pressing Thailand to give absolute protection to a
drug's clinical test data for a period of five years regardless of patent

Called data exclusivity, this provision goes way beyond the WTO's
requirements and will stop its trade partners from producing generic
medicines altogether.

As a result, the multi-national pharmaceutical companies will have a
monopoly on power to set prices and maximise profits. The price of
medicines, therefore, will be kept unaffordably high, causing unnecessary

If Thailand acquiesces to EU pressure, it will have to give the same
blanket data exclusivity protection to other trading partners too.
Eventually, the country will lose the compulsory licensing opportunity
allowed by the WTO to address a public health emergency. Again, more
unnecessary deaths.

Yet at a high-level policy meeting last week, the Department of Trade
Negotiations dismissed public health concerns and reportedly told Deputy
Prime Minister and Finance Minister Kittiratt Na-Ranong that Thailand needs
to be "more flexible" and accept the EU's request on clinical-test data
exclusivity in exchange for export benefits. According to the trade
negotiators, the impact on public access to affordable medicines will be

This policy recommendation faces heavy criticism from public health
activists because it contradicts the findings of several studies and the
experience of other countries. The Thailand Development Research Institute
has advised against accepting the EU's data exclusivity request because it
will gravely affect public access to affordable medicines. Another study
shows the five-year data exclusivity protection will cost the country at
least 80 billion baht more in drug expenses.

Early this week, consumers and public health civic groups petitioned the
government to reveal the details of the proposed Thailand-EU free trade
agreement and to seek public consultation before making any policy move.
Silence was the answer. This is not acceptable.

It is a short-sighted policy to exchange the public health of the majority
for the economic gains of relatively few. It is also the duty of the
government to respect the constitution's mandates on policy transparency
and public consultation. If the government does not want the Thailand-EU
trade deal to lose legal legitimacy, it must respect the constitution and
protect the public interest. In short, it must do the right thing.

Kannikar Kijtiwatchakul

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