Multinational Monitor


Not Kosher: The Ralph Reed-Jack Abramoff Connection.
by Andrew Wheat

The United States, Bolivia, and the Political Economy of Coca
by Gretchen Gordon

The CAFTA Chronicles: Strong-Arming Central America, Mocking Democracy
by Tom Ricker and Burke Stansbury

Thais Take to the Streets to Stop U.S. Trade Agenda
by Martin Khor

Drilling East Timor: Australia's Oil Grab inthe Timor Sea
by Charles Scheiner


Saving $60 Billion: Lawrence Korb's Common Sense Budget Defense Plan
An Interview with Lawrence Korb

The Market for Virtue: The Impact of Corporate Social Responsibility
An Interview with David Vogel


Behind the Lines

The Lobby Reform Fiasco

The Front
Philippines Gets Stomped - EPA Program Off Track

The Lawrence Summers Memorial Award

Names In the News

Book Notes


Thais Take to the Streets to Stop U.S. Trade Agenda

Something strange happened in Chiang Mai, Thailand recently. A January meeting between Thai and U.S. officials to negotiate a free trade agreement between the two countries had to be shifted out of the hotel because of a massive protest by 10,000 people in the streets outside. The officials had to leave by the back door and travelled to a golf resort 20 kilometers away to continue their talks.

Street demonstrations are well known at meetings of the World Trade Organization and the World Bank. But the Thais who turned up at Chiang Mai to show their displeasure even exceeded the number of protesters at the WTO conference in Hong Kong in December 2005.

A coalition of Thai organizations representing AIDS patients, consumers, farmers, health activists, human rights groups and other civic organizations led the Chiang Mai protests.

One major issue driving protesters into the streets is U.S. insistence that Thailand alter its patent and related laws in a way which public health advocates say will drive up the price of medicines.

Also, many farmers are against the liberalization of food imports, which they say will drive them out of business. Already, Thai farmers selling onions and garlic have lost their business to cheap imports from China after the two countries signed a free trade deal.

Among the protesters were 2,500 HIV-positive people, who see the proposed trade agreement as a matter of life and death. "It is crucial for us to stop the negotiations, because our lives are at stake," says Nopparat Sa-ngiemjitr, from an HIV/AIDS group.

"We are fighting against drug patenting with our lives. I know I might get arrested or injured in clashes with police, but we are all willing to face that, because we have more to lose if the talks succeed."

Some senior Thai government negotiators seemed to share the protesters' views. Kanisson Navanukhro, chief of Thailand's Department of Intellectual Property Rights, who led the Thai team negotiating on patents, says the U.S. conditions would put Thailand and Thai drug users in a disadvantaged position.

"We cannot accept the U.S. demands," he said, "because their conditions were created only to benefit a developed country which has an advanced pharmaceutical industry. Thailand will have nothing to gain because our capacity in producing drugs is very poor."

A World Health Organization official, William Aldis, agreed in a Bangkok Post article that "it could be a matter of life and death." He said that the United States had signed similar agreements with other countries that oblige them to tighten their patent laws well beyond internationally agreed standards.

"To the surprise of many observers," he wrote, "these countries have bargained away reasonable flexibilities and safeguards in the implementation of intellectual property rights provided by the World Trade Organization. These safeguards ensure access to life-saving medicines at an affordable cost by permitting countries to produce or import less expensive versions of essential drugs."

The WHO official added that a recent meeting of world experts organized by the Thai authorities had urged the Thai government not to give up its sovereign right to use these flexibilities. The meeting suggested that Thailand follow the example of Malaysia and issue compulsory licenses [authorizing generic production of unpatented drugs] to supply HIV/AIDS drugs.

"The stakes are high for the 600,000 Thais living with HIV/AIDS, whose survival depends on availability of affordable drugs," argued Aldis. The cost of the government's HIV treatment program may rise from $38 million to $500 million a year within 10 years, as the virus's resistance to present drugs means they have to be replaced by more expensive new drugs.

Giving up flexibilities in implementing intellectual property rights "would put at risk the survival of hundreds of thousands of Thai citizens," concluded the WHO official.

Parliamentarians have joined the protest movement. Thai Senator Kraisak Choonhavan plans to sue the Thai Government for violating the Thai Constitution in its conduct of the talks. Recently, he met with U.S. negotiators in Chiang Mai, then called on the government to reject any chapter in the trade agreement on intellectual property rights.

"We're concerned that an FTA [Free Trade Agreement] will block production of generic drugs, which in turn would definitely lead to higher drug prices," he said. The only options for the government now are to pull out of the talks or sell the country down the drain on public health for dubious returns."

The U.S. proposals would strengthen monopolies on medicines in a variety of ways. First, drug patent terms would be extended beyond the WTO-required length of 20 years.

Second, the FTA would require Thailand to provide five years of "exclusivity" on clinical trial data, meaning that generic drug producers cannot get their products approved for safety on the basis of the data already provided by the original company, although the products are similar.

This would stop generic versions of a medicine from entering the market for five years, even if there is no patent on the medicine. Thai consumers would have to pay the higher prices of medicines of the original companies.

Third, the free trade agreement would restrict the grounds that the government can use to issue a compulsory license that enables the supply of generic versions of the patented drugs.

In the face of the public protests, senior Thai Ministers assured the public that the trade deal will not have a negative impact on the people's access to medicines. But the United States is unlikely to sign an agreement that does not include the patent provisions it wants, as the record of previous trade negotiations shows.

Asked if the United States would agree to a deal that does not include its proposed patent provisions, U.S. spokesperson Neena Moorjani said, "We have not concluded any previous FTAs that did not include these provisions. U.S. free trade agreements maintain the same standards no matter which country we are negotiating with."

Critics of U.S. trade policy say what is happening in Thailand is a lesson for other Asian countries that are now in the process of beginning negotiations over similar deals. Malaysia and Korea are both set to start negotiations with the United States in coming months.

Any possible benefits in terms of increased market access for exports to the U.S. market have to be weighed against serious repercussions, warn critics, including increased competition to local producers and especially the impact on access to medicines.

Malaysia has made use of compulsory licensing to import three types of drugs for treating HIV/AIDS patients, resulting in much cheaper medicines being made available. In the future, compulsory licensing may also be used to import or manufacture generic medicines needed for all kinds of ailments, including SARS and avian flu.

Declaration of the 11 Thai People's Alliances against Free Trade Area and Privatization: Our Initial Victory

11 Thai People's Alliances
January 11, 2006
Chiang Mai, Thailand

To over 10,000 people from the 11 Thai People's Alliances against Free Trade Area and Privatization who gather here and hundreds of thousands people awaiting the results of the struggle at home, all sisters and brothers in Thailand and media friends,

The 11 Thai People's Alliances want to declare that we have already achieved our initial objectives. And this is the first victory of Thai society as we are able to bring to much wider public attention to the issues of the FTA [free trade agreement] negotiations and the false promises of the government that the FTA negotiations will not affect people. The future of the administration under Thaksin Shinnawatra is at stake should they fail to answer our call.

Our First Victory

This is the first time that concerns of People Living with HIV (PWAs), patients and consumers related to the increase of drug prices as a result of the monopoly by the extension of drug patent duration beyond the World Trade Organization's provisions; and impacts that will lead to the collapse of small-scale farmers and biodiversity, have been widely reported on front pages and become lead news of various media including radio, television and newspaper. This will greatly expand the space of media coverage of issues which have long been subordinated, including the conflicts of interest due to a lack of media freedom.

Previously, the process of FTA negotiations has been determined at the sole discretion of the government, and the food, automobile and parts, and telecommunication industries, all of which have a close connection with the government. The parliament has completely failed to monitor and review the FTA negotiations even though a number of senators have worked hard to oppose FTAs, especially with the U.S. This is not to mention members in the House of Representatives, two-thirds of which are members of the Thai Rak Thai, the coalition party. The whole parliamentarian mechanisms are looked down upon by the Thai Prime Minister, Mr. Thaksin Shinawatra, who in his recent public statement derided parliamentarians as having insufficient knowledge to review these important issues.

Our Second Victory

After the first day of the gathering on January 9, Mr. Somkid Chatusripitak, Deputy to the Prime Minister, Minister of Commerce and President of the Committee on FTA Strategy said that "as for intellectual property rights, I affirm that any agreement that will make us vulnerable will not be pursued. The Thai PM [Prime Minister] has made it clear that the issues of drug patents warrant special attention. If we lose too much, we will fight against that."

In the meantime, Mr. Surapong Suebwonglee, spokesman of the Prime Minister's Office, stated that "Mr. Thaksin reiterates that the negotiation has to be carried out chiefly for the benefit of our nation. We shall not comply with any agreements that will jeopardize interests in any of our products and input from the dissents have to be taken into account by the negotiation team."

We treat this as a promise to people all over the country and we have the press as our witness that the government will not tolerate an FTA deal that will result in monopoly of medicines and price increases, and will not liberalize agricultural markets which would badly affect a substantial number of farmers.

These are the initial victories of the 11 People's alliances. And it is also the victory of the Thai people as a whole.

Protesting fellows and every respected Thai people, we would like to declare that by earnest efforts we shall continue to keep watching the future course of the FTA negotiation which will not be concluded until April 2006.

This declaration is read on the land that houses the sacred Phra That Doi Suthep Temple Mount and other sacred spirits of all religions. We pledge to keep a close watch on every single line, sentence and word made in the Thai-US FTA agreements and shall not allow any clauses that will make us lose the nation's sovereignty, that will make drugs for suffering patients unaffordable or bring about catastrophe to the majority of farmers in Thailand.

Should the FTA deal be made and result in such grave damages, the Thaksin's regime shall be condemned as a liar as they will have failed to keep the word given to people. Until then, we, the 11 Thai People's Alliances, shall return in full force at the Governmental House. Believe us: the number of people at the next gathering will be 10 or 100 times more than the number today.

We shall demand and pursue any possible peaceful course of action allowed by the Constitution to achieve our goals.

We sincerely thank our sisters and brothers in Chiang Mai who waved their flags to support us during our demonstrations. Thank you for the water that you gave to our members and thank you to people who opened their houses and invited us in for water and food and much more.

Thai Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS
Alternative Agriculture Network
Federation of Consumers (Lampang)
Federation for Northern Farmers
4 Regions Slum Network
Council of People Organizations of Thailand
Assembly of the Poor
Student Federation of Thailand
Southern Community Forest Network
Southern Land Reform for the Poor
Confederation of State Enterprise
Labor Unions
FTA Watch

Martin Khor is director of the Penang, Malaysia-based Third World Network. This article was distributed by Third World Network Features.


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