That's one of the take-away messages contained in a68-page report that reviews the Bush administration's approach to trade agreements and intellectual property protection, specifically as it pertains to pharmaceuticals. The report, of course, looks at the White House track record since 2001, when a new intellectual property agreement was reached under World Trade Organization auspices and used measured language to assess the White House track record.
And the findings weren't all negative. For instance, the GAO determined that the US Trade Rep took a measured approach toward Thailand, which caused a ruckus for issuing compulsory licenses for several drugs. Several key observations, however, took the Bush administration to task for the way trade protections were balanced against public health concerns...
1 - The US Trade Rep has demanded that US trading partners adopt more extensive intellectual property protections than required under the 2001 agreement, and that the provisions conflict with the notion that the agreement be implemented in way that also serves public health;
2 - The US sought to limit the application of the agreement to situations involving HIV/AIDS, TB, malaria and other "epidemics," rather than permitting countries to assess their own public health priorities;
3 - US health agencies aren't asked to provide input to the US Trade Rep a bout the health impact of US trade policies. Interviews with USTR officials found "little evidence that USTR consulted with Health and Human Services or the HHS Office of Global Health Affairs about the potential impact of public health of specific pharmaceutical initiatives in Free Trade Agreements;
4 - The US Trade Rep receives input on specific sectors and issues from 14 trade advisory committees. Most of the committees have no public health reps. For instance, the committees on intellectual property and chemicals each have just one member appointed to represent public health interests, while the intellectual property committee has five reps from pharma, and the chemicals committee has 10.
And so Henry Waxman, the Congressional Democrat from California, and Ted Kennedy, the Democratic Senator from Massachusetts, who requested the GAO report, lambased the White House. "The Bush Administration must stop putting the financial interest of the pharmaceutical industry ahead of the needs of the poor and sick in developing countries," Kennedy say in a statement.
The Bush Administration "entered into a series of free trade negotiations with developing countries demanding provisions that threaten the ability of our trade partners to take necessary public health measures," says Waxman. "These provisions, found in CAFTA and other FTAs already in effect, could significantly delay the availability of lower-cost generic medicines."