Press release |

MSF Warns Central American Countries that Signing Regional Trade Pact Will Threaten Access to Life-Saving Medicines

Geneva/Guatemala City, 27 May 2004 — The international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) today warned signatories of the US-Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) that signing and taking further steps toward ratifying this agreement will endanger the health of millions of people living in Central America.

“By signing CAFTA, Central American countries like Guatemala are effectively trading away the health of their people,” said Anna Cavalli, MSF Head of Mission in Guatemala. “The extremely restrictive intellectual property provisions in this agreement will block access to low-cost essential medicines for Guatemalans. As an immediate consequence, in Guatemala, thousands of people living with HIV/AIDS and other diseases will no longer benefit from medicines available at reduced prices due to generic competition in other countries. For poor people in Guatemala and other countries in the region, the price of medicines can determine whether they will live or die.”

CAFTA and other bilateral and regional trade agreements with the US will dramatically reduce the ability of countries to provide low-cost quality medicines for their citizens, erasing important victories on access to medicines gained in recent years. These trade agreements introduce provisions that far exceed the World Trade Organization (WTO) standards, that were rejected during negotiations of the WTO Agreement on Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) more than ten years ago, and that contradict and undermine the 2001 Doha Declaration on TRIPS and Public Health.

By signing CAFTA today in Washington, Guatemalan president Oscar Berger is strengthening a national regulation on intellectual property related to medicines, the so-called Decree 9-2003, that is already in force in the country. “One month ago, President Berger publicly stated his intention to repeal this Decree, adopted by the Guatemalan Congress last year, which may effectively ban the registry and distribution of generic medicines in the country,” continued Cavalli. “Not only has he failed to repeal the Decree, but by now bowing to US pressure and signing CAFTA, Mr. Berger has further reneged on his promise to not allow trade agreements to undermine public health in Guatemala.”

CAFTA is not the only example of an agreement that contains provisions that will hinder access to affordable medicines by restricting generic competition and blocking the safeguards reaffirmed in the Doha Declaration. Many of the restrictive intellectual property provisions in CAFTA are also included in free trade agreements completed with Singapore, Chile, and Morocco. In addition, many of these provisions are in the current draft text of the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA), and are expected to appear in other agreements currently being negotiated with four Andean countries (Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru), Panama, Thailand, and five southern African countries in the Southern African Customs Union (Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa, and Swaziland).

MSF believes that CAFTA is a part of a US strategy to span the globe with bilateral and regional free trade agreements and undermine the international consensus reached at the WTO, enshrined in the Doha Declaration, about the need for appropriate balance between the protection of private intellectual property and of public health.

MSF is working in three countries affected by CAFTA (Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua), including programs providing medical assistance for people living with HIV/AIDS, Chagas’ disease, and other life-threatening illnesses. In Guatemala MSF is providing medical assistance, including antiretroviral (ARV) therapy, to more than 1000 Guatemalans living with HIV/AIDS.