INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY REMAINS A PROBLEM FOR PROPOSED FTAA

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The Fourth Summit of the Americas has failed to reach a consensus on the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) agreement. One group, comprising the majority of the 34 nations, supported reopening negotiations on the FTAA, while five countries, including Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela, refused to sign up for the talks.

The disagreements partly concern the US commitment to implementing continent-wide intellectual property standards, which some observers fear will be stricter than WHO-TRIPS regulations. This would reduce the prevalence of unauthorised copy drugs, known as "similares," which account for up to 40% of the drug market in some Latin American countries.

In Brazil, traditionally Latin America's largest pharmaceuticals market, the government is determined to protect patients from high drug prices and such products provide a valuable supply of cheap medicines to its large low-income population.

In recent months, Brazil has threatened to break patents on Abbott Laboratories' ARV Kaletra. A deal was eventually reached in which the price of Kaletra was reduced by 46%. However, the incident highlighted the government's uncompromising stance on such matters.

Whether the Brazilian government continues with such an aggressive approach is yet to be seen. Already, there are signs that foreign drugmakers might begin to down scale their operations in Brazil. According to local reports, Brazil would like to negotiate a separate trade deal with the US, although industry sources claim that the country is unlikely to receive any dispensation over patent law.