Essential Action Response to "Putting US-Thai Relations on Track," by Ashley Wills

The editor:

The Bangkok Post should not accept op-ed submissions without requiring full disclosure of relevant affiliations from contributors.

The latest affiliate of a U.S. law firm to offer views on Thailand's legal and admirable decision to issue compulsory licenses on important medicines is Ashley Wills. He is identified as former assistant U.S. Trade Representative -- which should itself suggest bias on the matter. Not identified is his current position: senior business advisor at the global law firm WilmerHale. Among WilmerHale's clients: multinational drug companies Pfizer, Schering Plough and Wyeth, and medical technology firms Becton Dickinson and Perkin Elmer.

As compared to the hysterical rants of Ken Adelman and USA for Innovation, Ambassador Wills may seem reasonable. He is not.

He deceptively suggests that Thailand's compulsory licenses violate the "spirit" of World Trade Organization rules, when he knows they were completely legal.

He then says, bizarrely, that the legality of Thailand's actions is "irrelevant," because the compulsory licenses are bad policy. He strangely fails to acknowledge that the compulsory licenses have lowered drug prices dramatically (around the world, as well as in Thailand) and will enable the Thai government to expand treatment dramatically, saving thousands of lives. Surely this is part of the calculation of whether the compulsory licenses are good policy or not.

Wills references the Clinton Foundation's recent announcement of reduced prices for important AIDS drugs, without acknowledging that the Clinton Foundation's best price deals are for generics. In a country like Thailand, where many important medicines are patented, the only way to capitalize on the Clinton Foundation deals is to issue compulsory licenses. Wills also conveniently neglects to mention that Bill Clinton himself forcefully endorsed Thailand's actions.

Wills makes the utterly groundless claim that the compulsory licenses will affect foreign investment in Thailand. Investors are not swayed by propaganda. If they assess there are good business opportunities, they will invest. If not, they won't. No serious person or business -- and investors are nothing if not serious - believes that the compulsory licenses evidence a broad disdain for property rights.

Wills alleges the compulsory licenses may hurt the medical tourism business in Thailand, when he knows perfectly well that the licenses apply to the public sector only. Medical tourists will not be able to access compulsory licensed products even if they so desire.

And he makes the shameful and untrue argument that World Health Organization-approved generic medicines are of dubious quality. He might as easily claimed that there are concerns about safety and efficacy of brand-name products, because these products on numerous occasions have been pulled from the market, or cited for quality problems, after approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, as well as other leading drug regulatory agencies.

Ambassador Wills concludes his submission with a call for good faith. A little good faith would surely be desirable. That means disclosures of business affiliations and conflicts of interest, and an end to the deceptive propaganda spread by Big Pharma and its representatives.

Robert Weissman, director, Essential Action, Washington, DC

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