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US lobbied Philippines on cheap medicines–WikiLeaks

/ 03:00 AM September 01, 2011

Washington had lobbied two Filipino lawmakers to address concerns that a proposed Cheaper Medicines Act could infringe on American drug patents, according to a US Embassy cable released by WikiLeaks, the online whistle-blower.

In an unclassified Dec. 11, 2006, memo to the US Department of State, then US Ambassador to the Philippines Kristie Kenney referred to then Sen. Manuel Roxas II and Quirino Rep. Junie Cua, sponsors of the controverisal measure.

Kenney’s cable said that the lawmakers had “agreed to resolve US concerns” the proposed legislation could result in violations of TRIPS, short for Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights Agreement.

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She said that an unnamed economic counselor had followed up on the visit by US Trade Representative for Southeast Asian and Pacific Affairs David Katz by meeting separately with Roxas and Cua on Nov. 22 “to lobby for the removal” of two provisions of concern.

“He passed to both copies of the interagency-cleared non-paper identifying specific language changes,” the cable said.

“He argued that while the Philippines has every right to take actions to benefit the health and economic circumstances to its population, those actions must respect the obligations the country has signed on to and the rights of the holders of patents.”

The cable said Cua and Roxas “spent time reviewing the language changes word by word” with the counselor.

“Both agreed that the current wording of the data exclusivity provision of the legislation is overly broad. Roxas promised to resolve the problem in the Senate version and to provide us with the new language. Cua undertook to consult with Roxas and others on changing the language of the House version.”

Controversial concept

According to Kenney, who is now the US ambassador in Thailand, the two legislators’ “responses on the issue of ‘new use patents’ were less helpful.”

“Both noted that the concept is very controversial internationally. They said that they did not agree that this agreement would violate TRIPS, and they could not agree to remove it from the legislation. Cua noted that India’s new patent legislation does not protect new use patents and asked theoretically, ‘Is the US going to go to the mat with India over this issue?’”

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On Dec. 4, 2006, the cable said Cua reported that “he was discussing the data exclusivity issue with House members and they had reached a consensus to change the language. He wanted to see again our recommended changes to explore whether they would be acceptable.”

“Cua called again on Dec. 8. He reported that the House committee on trade, which he presides, had amended the legislation partially, resolving our concerns on data exclusivity.”

Initial reluctance

“Although we would have liked to see the new use language changed as well, it is clear that Philippine legislators will not be induced to do so,” Kenney said.

“Nonetheless, we believe resolution of the data exclusivity issue brings this legislation a long way toward acceptability. We will continue to work with legislators to ensure that new language on this point is acceptable, and will continue to provide language to Washington agencies for their review as soon as it becomes available,” she added.

In another unclassified cable, the embassy reported that in a May 16 meeting with Barbara Weisel, assistant US trade representative for Asia-Pacific and pharmaceutical policy, Roxas “agreed to work with the US government to address specific concerns regarding Senate Bill No. 2139.”

Weisel “raised concerns about Senate Bill No. 2139, known as the “Roxas Bill,” which proposes to amend the Intellectual Property Code of the Philippines in order to expand RP’s parallel importation program for pharmaceuticals to include patented medicines,” according to the cable.

Domestic competition

“Roxas said that he wrote the legislation in order to make medicines more affordable to the average Filipino. He said, “The real goal is to try and create more competition in the domestic market. There are 85 million people here, but the actual purchasing power of that population is much smaller,” it said.

“In response to the US government’s request for clarification on certain provisions that pose possible compliance issues with respect to TRIPS, Roxas said that the legislation has already been reworked … in order to ensure TRIPS compliance, which have been accepted verbatim. ”

In spite of much wrangling, the measure passed into law, Republic Act No. 9502, or the “Universally Accessible Cheaper and Quality Medicines Act of 2008,” which reduced by half prices of 22 essential medicines.

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TAGS: “Universally Accessible Cheaper and Quality Medicines Act of 2008”, (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights Agreement), American drug patents, Cheaper Medicines Act, former Sen. Manuel Roxas II, former US Ambassador to the Philippines Kristie Kenney, Quirino Rep. Junie Cua, TRIPS, Washington, WikiLeaks
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