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Policy & Politics
House Passes CAFTA; Bush Expected to Sign Pact; HIV/AIDS Advocates Say Agreement Could Threaten Treatment Access

July 28, 2005

The House on Wednesday approved 217-215 the Central American Free Trade Agreement, a deal aiming to reduce trade barriers between the U.S. and six Central American nations that supporters have said will stimulate economic and democratic growth in the region, USA Today reports (Lynch, USA Today, 7/28). However, some international health advocates say the agreement could limit access to medical treatment, including HIV/AIDS-related drugs, for thousands of poor people in Central America (Lobe, Inter Press Service, 7/26). CAFTA eliminates tariffs and other barriers to trade in goods, agricultural services, investment and the imposition of intellectual property rights on medicines. AIDS advocates worry that the agreement also could place limitations on compulsory licensing, which allows a government to authorize itself or a third party to make a generic version of a patented product, including antiretroviral drugs, with payment of reasonable compensation to the patent holder. CAFTA also will require generic drug makers to redo clinical trials to obtain marketing approval and postpone using the trial results for brand-name company drugs for five years, which could create patent-like barriers to market entry of generics, even where no patent exists. However, some analysts have said that a side letter to CAFTA states that the patent-protection provisions in the agreement should not affect government AIDS treatment programs (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 4/6). The Senate approved the pact last month (Andrews, New York Times, 7/28). Bush said in a statement that he will sign CAFTA into law (White House release, 7/28).

Advocates' Reaction
"For patients currently on treatment in Central America, CAFTA means a 15-fold increase in the cost of their medications, making the House's action today not only a tragedy for Central American HIV patients but a dangerous precedent that compromises World Trade Organization principles," AIDS Healthcare Foundation President Michael Weinstein said, adding, "In light of today's vote, AHF calls upon the global community ... to stand up for the basic human right to health and access to medications and to declare the HIV/AIDS pandemic a global health emergency" (AHF release, 7/28). Roman Macaya, executive director of the National Chamber of Generic Products of Costa Rica, said, "The text of CAFTA is a major score for Big Pharma. In the name of 'free trade,' monopolies of medicines are being created or extended beyond what they would be under [WTO] rules, which are already in place. CAFTA's new rules will cost human lives" (Inter Press Service, 7/26).

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