Dept probes drug access fears

The Trade Negotiations Department has agreed to compare the texts of the proposed Thailand-EU Free Trade Agreement with those of other countries after concerns raised by activists that Thailand is being treated unfairly.

Director-general Piramol Charoenpao said staff would investigate activists' claims that the EU has agreed not to require the so-called Trips-plus provisions in its FTA with some other countries, including India.

The department will also compare the initial text of the proposed Thailand-EU FTA and the agreement which the EU will make with other countries such as Singapore and Vietnam.

It will invite all stakeholders to talks before making any conclusions on the FTA, she said.

"The principle is that the FTA must create a win-win situation and the benefits must exceed the losses," she said.

About 500 members of the Thai Network of People Living with HIV/Aids yesterday gathered at the Commerce Ministry to oppose the Thailand-EU FTA. They say the agreement will hamper patient access to vital drugs.

The group has raised concerns that a great number of additional provisions more stringent than the World Trade Organisation's Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights agreement, known as the TRIPs-plus provisions, including data exclusivity, the extension of the patent protection period, and stricter IP protection enforcement, have been included in the Thailand-EU FTA text.

Usawadee Maleewong, an activist who led the gathering, said a study by the Social Pharmacy Research Centre of Chulalongkorn University shows that data exclusivity, which bans registration of generic drugs during the data exclusivity period, costs the government as much as 81 billion baht in drug imports.

A network activist, also a HIV patient, said the government's universal health care scheme does not cover some specific drugs used to treat HIV/Aids.

"We may have to pay extra if the government can't do so itself, which means some patients will not survive because they can't afford imported drugs," he said.

Meanwhile, a new online resource for civil society and patient groups in developing countries for challenging unwarranted drug patents was launched yesterday by Medecins Sans Frontieres.

The Patent Opposition Database comes on the 10th anniversary of a landmark decision in Thailand that paved the way for patent opposition by civil society groups.

The Patent Opposition Database can be found at www.patentoppositions.org.

On Oct 2, 2002, Thailand's Central Intellectual Property and International Trade Court overturned the patent on the then-key HIV drug didanosine, after the Aids Access Foundation and three Thais living with HIV challenged it.

"Drug companies routinely apply for patents or are granted monopolies on medicines even when these aren't actually deserved," said Michelle Childs, director of policy advocacy for MSF's access campaign.

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Writer: Phusadee Arunmas & Paritta Wangkiat