Prime Minister's Statements on the US Free Trade Agreement Should be the Basis for the Agreement's Negotiations

Press Release

22 May 2005

The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) said today that the statements of Egypt's Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif during his visit to Washington on the free trade agreement (FTA) with the United States and its possible impact on the prices of medicines in Egypt should serve as the basis for the bilateral negotiations on the agreement, which are expected to start before the end of the year.

During a press conference held by Mr. Nazif in Washington on 18 May in conclusion of his week-long visit to the US capital, Mr. Nazif has reportedly said that "Egypt is a state that respects its international obligations, including all the provisions of the agreement on the protection of intellectual property rights (TRIPS). Egypt has noticed that the US imposes more severe restrictions in this regard than those included in the international agreement. That is why the Egyptian government is conducting an assessment of the possible negative impacts on Egyptian society and the prices of medicines in case a bilateral free trade agreement is reached with the US. "

"We have been calling on the current government since its appointment last July and the repeated announcements of its keen interest in reaching a free trade agreement with the US to declare a clear position on the restrictions that the agreement could impose on citizens' access to medicines," said Hossam Bahgat, Director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. "Prime Minister Nazif's statements are extremely important in this regard and should constitute a negotiating line to which the government has to commit itself when the negotiations start." 

The US currently attempts to include in all its bilateral and regional trade agreements the provisions on which it had to compromise due to opposition by other states during multilateral negotiations of international trade agreements. In the field of intellectual property and patent protection in particular, the US, under pressure from large pharmaceutical companies, tries to impose more provisions than those included in the World Trade Organization's agreement on the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). These provisions, known as 'TRIPS Plus', include the extension of the life span of patents, imposing new obstacles related to pharmaceutical test data, allowing known substances to be re-patented for each "new use", restricting the right of states to grant compulsory licenses for the production of low-cost drugs and turning national drug regulatory authorities into a 'patent police'. These measures will effectively impose a monopoly on local markets in favor of American pharmaceutical companies and negatively impact the right of people to have access to affordable medicines.  

The American President George W. Bush had announced an initiative to conclude free trade agreements with all the countries of the Middle East by 2013. Jordan, Morocco and Bahrain have already signed these agreements in spite of all of their flaws, while Oman and the United Arab Emirates are currently negotiating similar agreements.

The EIPR said the announcement by the Egyptian Prime Minister is consistent with the resolution on access to medicines, which was adopted by consensus at the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva last April. The resolution calls on states to "to conduct an impact assessment of the effects of international trade agreements with regard to public health and to the progressive realization of the right of everyone to the highest attainable standard of health" and "to take into account [TRIPS] flexibilities when entering into international trade agreements that may affect public health".

The EIPR also called on the government to make public the results of its impact assessment study upon its conclusion and to involve public health experts and civil society representatives in the negotiations of the FTA. "Civil society participation in the negotiations will not only guarantee the transparency of the process, but it will also strengthen the positions of the Egyptian government and provide it with the support that will guarantee its commitment to protecting the right to health for all Egyptians."