Ellen R. Shaffer, PhD, MPH, Director, July 28, 2005
Center for Policy Analysis on Trade and Health (CPATH)

The 217-215 vote showed that even by night, CAFTA is a bitter pill. Worse, it’s the wrong prescription for America’s health.

But the U.S. is negotiating similar trade agreements around the world, every day. The only way to stop more CAFTA’s is to start now, by injecting a real voice for the public into fair, democratic trade negotiations.

The Central American Free Trade Agreement is saddled with special favors for the pharmaceutical industry that will make drugs even more unaffordable, and with threats to public health protections and access to health care that have no legitimate place in a trade bill. We are convinced the U.S. public does not support depriving our neighbors in Guatemala of live-saving drugs, or propping up drug prices at home. Costa Rica, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic, which face no such diversionary proposals when negotiating with trade officials from countries other than the U.S., have so far resisted ratifying this flawed agreement.

CAFTA was negotiated in secret and presented to a Congress that couldn’t amend it, because of the voting rules on trade bills. And without a dose of democracy, the plague will spread to our trading partners in Thailand, the Andean nations, Panama, and current World Trade Organization negotiations.

The U.S. Trade Representative is legally required to appoint a fair balance of interests to the influential Advisory Committees that have privileged access to trade negotiating information, and shape trade rules. But they don’t. The pharmaceutical industry alone sends 20 representatives to at least five different committees. Tobacco, health insurance, alcohol and processed food companies have their seats, too. Who represents public health? No one.

CPATH and our colleagues have called on the U.S. Trade Representative to consult in advance with qualified experts concerned with the public’s health. The General Accountability Office and Congress have concurred on the remedy. USTR has acknowledged these requests, but taken no action.

CAFTA is a real tragedy for the health of Central Americans and ultimately for the U.S. public. Advocates will have to redouble efforts to assure that Guatemalans and others in need receive affordable medicines and health care. At the same time, the USTR should call an immediate moratorium on meetings of its Advisory Committees, until it can assure that public health voices have a fair chance to influence critical trade policies.

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