It’s not hard to get the feeling that both sides in “this”:http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2004/08/04/1091557920351.html debate are making a monumental political hash of the real problems in pursuit of what Tony Abbott called—with ironic candor—vain political ambition. I think Kim Weatherall’s “assessment”:http://weatherall.blogspot.com/2004_08_01_weatherall_archive.html#109158422813468629 is basically correct; there may be a real problem here and it’s unlikely that Labor’s proposed amendment will solve the problem. The pity of this debate is that the apparent fault in the Agreement does not need to be solved now in an amendment to the FTA implementing legislation. The legislation can safely be passed now, bringing the Agreement into force next year, after the election. There will be ample time then to consider a proper approach to the resolution of the underlying issue based on a more thoughtful amendment to the patents legislation addressing the issue of “evergreening“, which clearly goes much wider than the FTA with the United States. After all, there are large European drugs companies who are equally aggressive patenters of drugs and who also supply the PBS. Presumably, evergreening is also a means that the European firms may use to minimize the price-impact of generics. The only difference between the European and US firms, as far as I can see, is the ‘prior notice’ aspect of the FTA. But that’s a comparatively trivial issue. Unfortunately, both Labor and the Conservatives seem bent on proving that they hold political product differentiation a higher good than adopting a treaty that each agrees is in the national interest.
Peter Gallagher is a leading Australian consultant on trade and public policy.[bio].
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