US Reassures Thailand on Generic ARVs Access
The US Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick has insisted that a prospective free trade agreement (FTA) between the US and Thailand will not affect access to HIV/AIDS generics. Sharp falls in the local cost of treatment with antiretroviral (ARV) drugs, from US$250 per month to US$30 per month in recent years, have been largely a result of the use of copy versions of patented pharmaceutical products.
Zoellick's statements appeared to imply that the TRIPS intellectual property accord's provisions for "national emergency" are sufficient to allow for continued local production of cheap ARVs. Thailand's consumption of the products has soared in recent years as increasing numbers of the HIV positive develop AIDS.
Despite this pledge, patent considerations are likely to be at the heart of any FTA with the US, not least as the market environment for generics in Thailand is currently very favourable. The sector accounts for 64% of drug market sales, and more than 80% of the market in volume terms. One example of recent preferential legislation was the 2001 law allowing approval procedures for generic drugs to begin prior to the expiry of the patent on the originator product.
The line between authorised generics and copy products is already often blurred
for many Thai consumers, and the US has fiercely opposed the rising share of
counterfeit drugs in the country. Current penalties against the lucrative trade
have done little to halt Thailand's recent emergence as a major transhipment
point for copy and counterfeit drugs from China and Eastern Europe.