FTA negotiations reached a deadlock this week, with ALP leader Mark Latham pushing for two amendments, one of which would speed up the availability of generic, cheaper versions of drugs in Australia.

The federal government has refused this amendment, with health minister Tony Abbott on Tuesday night’s Lateline on the ABC accusing Labor of anti-Americanism and trying to save face.

But John Daye, treatments spokesperson for the National Association of People Living with HIV/AIDS, told Sydney Star Observer even if the Liberal Party supported the ALP amendment it did not go far enough.

The process generally around the Free Trade Agreement and these changes is extraordinarily ambiguous and that is really dangerous, he said.
There are far broader and far wider implications of all of this and it is quite disturbing.

Under the federal government’s FTA proposal, pharmaceutical companies are able to extend the length of their drug patents through a process known as evergreening, effectively delaying the arrival of cheaper versions of drugs.

Evergreening involves a company claiming new patents on the same product -“ on anything from the drug’s colour to the manufacturing process. The delaying process keeps the price of medications higher by removing competitors.

Latham told The Sydney Morning Herald his amendment would eliminate the possibility of these bodgie patent applications in Australia by penalising drug companies who attempted to evergreen.

Daye expressed disappointment Latham did not go further and challenge the proposed review process. The proposed FTA includes a review procedure in which American drug companies can question decisions made by Australia’s Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee (PBAC).

In the existing system, the PBAC meets four times a year to decide which new drugs should be approved by the Australian government. Pricing is based on whether the drugs offer new and improved benefits -“ not on a price determined by drug companies.

Under the federal government’s FTA, a review of PBAC decisions could be made by a single appointee not connected with drug companies.

In a report on Four Corners this week, it was suggested that US legal representatives could interpret review as overturn. Law professor Kevin Outterson told ABC TV that review implied the US had the power to give it a thumbs up or thumbs down.

Daye echoed Outterson’s concerns, noting pharmaceutical companies often provided campaign support for US political parties.

The pharmaceutical industry will actually take the matter to the point of -˜well, you’re not acting in the best interests or the spirit of the FTA’ and get politicians to look at it from a whole different angle -¦ he said.

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