The U.S., Switzerland and Singapore are urging countries to end tariffs on medicines and medical devices under a new world trade deal, U.S. trade officials said on Monday, Reuters Health reports. A World Health Organization report in 2005 found that many countries burdened with such diseases as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria still are imposing tariffs on imports of medicines and medical devices, Peter Allgeier, U.S. ambassador to the World Trade Organization, said. Eliminating tariffs and taxes on essential drugs probably would "save thousands of lives across the developing world," according to a recent joint research paper by the American Enterprise Institute and the Brookings Institution, Reuters Health reports. Allgeier said developing countries could cut the cost of drugs for their citizens if they ended tariffs, which make up only a small portion of government revenue. WTO and its 149 members aim to reach a new world trade deal by the end of the year (Reuters Health, 2/27).
"Anyone in Asia who cares about the health of the world's poor" should support a proposal under consideration by the WTO to eliminate import tariffs on essential medicines, including HIV/AIDS drugs, American Enterprise Institute Resident Fellow Roger Bate and China Foundation adviser Jim Driscoll, write in a Wall Street Journal Asia opinion piece. Although India, China and Thailand have "growing foreign-exchange surpluses" and some of the highest HIV-prevalence rates in the region, the countries "continue to impose inexcusable trade barriers to the importation of lifesaving medications," including antiretroviral drugs, according to the authors. Because tariffs "delay improvements to vital health care infrastructure and increase their cost," China, India and Thailand should "reap the benefits" of eliminating import tariffs, like South Africa and Kenya have done with HIV/AIDS drugs, Bate and Driscoll write. In addition, President Bush should "further improve" his "commendable leadership in providing AIDS treatment to poorer countries" by "spearheading trade diplomacy to end medical tariffs worldwide," according to Bate and Driscoll. They conclude, "If Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Chinese President Hu Jintao respond to his efforts, then they can enhance their reputations as world leaders as they work together to help protect humanity from the scourge of disease and make lifesaving medications available to the poor" (Bate/Driscoll, Wall Street Journal Asia, 2/27).
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