[Ip-health] Health groups defend compulsory licensing
Wed Mar 4 06:47:13 2009
[ Picked text/plain from multipart/alternative ]
*Health groups defend compulsory licensing
By Pongphon Sarnsamak
Published on March 4, 2009
A group of health activists yesterday protested a Commerce Ministry plan to
ask the Public Health Ministry to cease imposing compulsory licensing on
drugs essential to saving patients suffering from killer diseases. It said
the plan favoured a US trade representative proposal to withdraw Thailand
from the priority watch list and upgrade its status to watch list.
" The announcement to not impose more compulsory licensing on essential
drugs would disable the country's ability to negotiate with pharmaceutical
companies to reduce the price of drugs," said Aids Access's director, Nimit=
Tien-Udom, who led the group.
"A lot of drug firms want to negotiate with the government to reduce their
product prices," he added.
The move comes after the Commerce Ministry sent a letter on February 24
asking the Public Health Ministry's permanent secretary not to impose more
compulsory licensing on essential drugs.
In the letter, signed by the Department of Intellectual Property's director
Puangrat Asawapisit,the Commerce Ministry explained it had asked the PHM no=
to impose more compulsory licensing because it wants to negotiate with and
convince the US trade representative to withdraw Thailand from the priority
watch list and upgrade it to watch list.
Moreover, this issue topped the agenda of Deputy Commerce Minister,
Alongkorn Ponlaboot's discussions with the US trade representative during a
trip to the US between March 9 - 17.
Nimitr said : "Why do they want to trade people's lives for the elusive
benefits offered by drug companies? This was a poor Ministry of
"We are trying to meet the Deputy Commerce Minister to discuss this issue
with him before he travels to the US," he added.
Citing a study by the Health Intervention and Technology Assessment Program
(an independent body under the Public Health Ministry), Nimitr said it was
shown that under priority watch list status, Thailand was involved with the
implementation of compulsory licensing on essential drugs; but there was no
evidence to show that a cut in the US's generalised system of preferences
(GSP) was linked to Thai products, nor had it affected overall exports or
investors' confidence during the past few years.
Meanwhile, said Nimitr, the quality of patients' lives has improved since
Thailand imposed compulsory licensing on Aids, heart disease and cancer
drugs in 2007 and 2008 - for a cost of about Bt 4 billion.
However, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA)
wants the US trade representative to list Thailand as a priority foreign
country (PFC) - listing problems stemming from counterfeit drugs,
implementation of compulsory licensing for essential drugs, data
exclusivity, and patent linkage.
Public Health Minister, Witthaya Kaewparadai said PhRMA had no reason to
list Thailand as PFC. " I think PhRMA does not have to worry; I have never
threatened to impose compulsory licensing on the products of any drug firms=
So, don't do anything to affect Thailand," he said.
" They should thank us for our attempts to protect their products and shoul=
help us ask the US trade representative to remove Thailand from the priorit=
watch list, instead of asking the trade representative to list Thailand as =
priority foreign country (PFC)," he added.
He insisted that the enforcement of compulsory licensing on essential drugs
would remain the key mechanism to help patients gain access to affordable
drugs; but the ministry would comply with international law by negotiating
with drug firms before imposing compulsory licensing.
" We will use it only when we are facing a crisis," he said.
*Cheap drug cap raises outcry
US accused of exerting unfair trade leverage*
By: THEERAWUT SATHITPHATTARAKUL and PHUSADEE ARUNMAS
Published: 4/03/2009 at 12:00 AM
Newspaper section: News
Health activists are up in arms over the Commerce Ministry's call for no
more drugs to be listed under the compulsory licensing policy.
The move is being seen as appeasement of the United States and its
Nimit Thien-udom, director of the Aids Access Foundation, said yesterday he=
advocacy groups would seek a meeting with Deputy Commerce Minister
AlongkornPonlaboot to clarify the ruling before he sets off for
Mr Alongkorn was scheduled to hold talks with staff of the US Trade
Representative next week.
His main agenda would be to try to resume the Thai-US free trade
agreementstalled after the military coup in 2006 and convince US trade
remove Thailand from the Priority Watch List.
Thailand was downgraded from the Watch List to PWL in 2007 because of its
deteriorating intellectual property rights protection, according to the US
The move came after the government headed by Gen Surayud Chulanont imposed
the compulsory licensing (CL) policy on cheap drugs. The US administration
denied any link between Thailand trade status and the CL policy but
groups in Thailand and elsewhere saw it otherwise.
Compulsory licensing allows a government to produce a patented product or
process without the consent of the patent owner. It comes under the World T=
Organisation agreement on intellectual property to give developing
countriesgreater access to drugs.
Public Health Minister Witthaya Kaewparadai has said the present government
would continue the policy.Mr Alongkorn's visit to the US comes as the USTR
was reviewing the status of all its trade partners, including Thailand. The
annual review would be launched in May in the Special 301 Report.
Lobbyists representing drug firms reportedly want Washington to downgrade
Thailand's status further, to Priority Foreign Countries (PFC) listing.
Trade status is linked to the Generalised System of Privileges (GSP) the US
administration offered its trade partners.
"It is really bad for him [the deputy commerce minister] to trade the lives
of the people with an illusion drugs companies have created," Mr Nimit said=
The uproar follows a Feb 24 letter sent by Intellectual Property Department
chief Puangrat Asavapisit to permanent secretary for public health Prat
Boonyawongwirote. It detailed concerns among the US private sector,
especially the pharmaceutical industry, about intellectual property rights
violations in Thailand.
The letter said Thailand might be persuaded not to use CL on drugs in the
future as an inducement for the US to take the country off the PWL.
Mr Nimit said no evidence had been found to link the policy on cheap drugs
to the US slashing of import tariff privileges under the GSP.
The CL policy has increased people's access to proper treatment and improve=
their quality of life. This has economic value of almost 4.5 billion baht,
Mr Nimit said.
He said the Thai government should not kowtow to US demands and place too
much weight on the PWL, as it would be used to put pressure on the country.
Intellectual Property Department deputy chief Wiboonlaksana Ruamraksa
yesterday said her department had sent a letter to the US to protest agains=
any attempt by drug companies to downgrade Thailand's status further.
She said Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America and
Biopharmaceuticals of the US had asked the USTR to lower Thailand's status.
Ms Wiboonlaksana said Thailand had not declared CL on any drugs in 2008.
She also said Mr Alongkorn's trip to the US should convince Washington of
Thailand's determination to crack down on property rights violations.
Mr Witthaya said his ministry's task was to clarify its CL policy to the
Commerce Ministry. "And the ministry will state only facts and place the
national interest first," he said.
He said he told representatives of the US-Asean Business Council on March 2
the ministry would reserve the rights to use CL in cases of emergency.
"The use of CL has wide consequences, including on foreign relations," he
said. "If it is required, we will not hesitate to declare a CL."
Mr Witthaya said Thailand should send a signal to the US and its
pharmaceutical industry to respect Thailand's right under the
Agreement on Trade-Related
Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights to issue a compulsory licence.