Health GAP (Global Access Project) Press Release
May 28 2004

Contact: Asia Russell 1 267 475 2645

Central America Trade Deal Trades Away Access to Low Cost AIDS Medicines

(Washington, D.C.) In reaction to today's signing of the Central
America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), the AIDS activist group Health
GAP criticized the agreement for threatening access to affordable,
life-saving generic drugs in the region. CAFTA is a trade agreement
between the U.S. and five Central American countries: Costa Rica, El
Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, and Guatemala.

CAFTA contains new obligations that the five countries protect the
intellectual property of drug companies, above and beyond what is
already required by World Trade Organization rules. These obligations
will delay and obstruct generic competition, according to activists,
driving the cost of medicines up, compromising public health, and
threatening the lives of millions.

"The protectionism demanded by U.S. drug manufacturers, and willingly
ceded by the White House, will cost lives in Central America," said
Asia Russell of Health GAP. "Bush is using trade deals to please his
drug company cronies, no matter the impact on people dying without
access to treatment."

Generic competition, which has reduced AIDS drug costs as much as
98%, from $15,000 per year to $140 per year, is a major force in
facilitating AIDS treatment scale up in Central America. Activists
are concerned that CAFTA would reverse that trend in a region where
20,000 people are already HIV positive.

CAFTA includes provisions that will require countries to prolong drug
company patents beyond 20 years, grant monopoly rights to drug
companies over "test data," acting as an additional, patent-like
barrier to generic competition, and will link the national
registration status of a drug to its patent status. This linkage of
patent and registration status could open the door to bogus patent
claims by drug companies, according to activists.

In 2001, WTO members pledged that countries could override drug
company patents in order to protect public health and promote access
to medicines for all. Since that time, the Bush Administration has
used bilateral and regional trade agreements, outside the
multilateral jurisdiction of the WTO, to extract higher levels of
intellectual property protection for pharmaceuticals.

"Congress must reject the CAFTA and any other U.S. agreement that
puts the commercial interests of profiteering drug companies over the
human right to access to affordable medicines," said Jen Cohn of
Health GAP.

The Bush Administration is also preventing the rapid procurement of
quality assured generic medicines in its $15 billion bilateral AIDS
program, by requiring generic manufacturers to submit to a
burdensome, time consuming process through the FDA. The World Health
Organization already assesses the safety of generic medicines through
its pre qualification project. The American process, activists say,
will accomplish the same obstruction of generic competition that will
likely result from the White House's CAFTA trade deal.

In addition to the CAFTA, USTR has completed or is negotiating trade
agreements with Panama; the Dominican Republic; the Andean nations
Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia; the countries of the Southern African
Customs Union Namibia, South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, and
Swaziland; Morocco; Australia and Thailand, among others.

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