The European Union (EU) is currently negotiating a free trade agreement (FTA) with the four founding members of Mercosur (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay), which comprises a chapter on intellectual property rights (IPR). A new round of negotiations is taking place from November 29th to December 8th in Brussels. Word is that they aim to announce the closure of the agreement at the next World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial Conference that will be held from 10-13 of December in Buenos Aires and the clock is ticking to close all the chapters before that. As usual, the negotiations are taking place in secrecy, but the EU released a draft proposal of the IPR chapter in September last year, which has provided the general public some knowledge about what is been negotiated.
Throughout the many years of negotiations, the Mercosur countries have been opposing the adoption of any clauses that provide further protection for IPR than is already required in the WTO TRIPS Agreement. However, according to recent press reports the EU is still pushing for those measures. It is suspected that they are deliberately delaying the issue of patents and public health to try to force an agreement at the last minute, when negotiations around other issues will already have been reached and the pressure will be high on Mercosur not to lose everything.
We conducted an impact assessment study to estimate the impact that the EU proposal for the IPR chapter could have on health policies in Brazil. The study aims to present new evidence to inform the negotiations and follows the recommendation of the United Nations’ High-Level Panel (UN HLP) on Access to Medicines. The findings show that the adoption of the measures proposed by the EU could put the sustainability of access to health policies in Brazil at risk, as they could sharply increase public expenditures on medicines. The report was released just before the negotiations that took place last September in Brasilia, bringing new evidence to support the Mercosur position to reject the TRIPS-plus measures proposed by the EU.
If we look at only what is related to medicines used to treat HIV and hepatitis C (which amounts to 30 medicines out of the almost 450 provided by the Brazilian public health system), the reports reveal that additional expenditures could be almost BRL 2 billion per year (about USD 640 million)! That is equivalent to the annual Brazilian public expenditure on health of 1,369,256 persons! If that is extrapolated to all purchases of medicines in Brazil, the additional burden brought by the FTA could result in a collapse of the Brazilian public health system, one of the few in the world that adopts a policy of universal access to healthcare.
By Marcela Fogaça Vieira and Gabriela Costa Chaves
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