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UN health expert hails European Parliament’s rejection of trade agreement

Anand Grover, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to health.
UN Photo/Evan Schneider
Anand Grover, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to health.

UN health expert hails European Parliament’s rejection of trade agreement

The European Parliament’s rejection of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) is a step in the right direction to ensure access to affordable medications, a United Nations independent expert on health said today.

“ACTA’s defeat in Europe is a welcome blow to the flawed agreement that has failed to address numerous concerns related to access to medicines, such as unnecessary inclusion of patents and civil trademark infringements and unjustified stricter civil enforcement provisions that could impede access to generic medicines,” the Special Rapporteur on the right to health, Anand Grover, said in a news release.

On Wednesday, the European Parliament rejected the agreement, which intended to establish international standards to enforce intellectual property rights, as well as an international legal framework to target generic medicines, counterfeit goods, and copyright infringement online, among others.

Mr. Grover cautioned against “heightened enforcement standards, envisioned by agreements like ACTA, that would hinder the legitimate trade and transit of medicines and adversely affect the availability of, and access to, affordable generic medicines,” and argued that sufficient intellectual property enforcement standards are already in place, such as the Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).

“Had ACTA come into force, it would have exposed third parties – producers of active pharmaceutical ingredients, distributors, retailers, non-governmental organizations and funders of health programmes to the risk of liabilities for trademark or patent infringements,” Mr. Grover said.

The Special Rapporteur also highlighted other concerns about ACTA, such as the lack of protection of measures and judicial review, and absent penalties for abusive litigation and baseless allegation. Mr. Grover had previously stressed – in a 2009 report on access to medicines and intellectual property rights – that the agreement failed to consider the public interest and had warned about the lack of transparency and secrecy surrounding its negotiations.

“It is encouraging that the public scrutiny led to ACTA’s setback by the elected democratic body,” Mr. Grover said. “I hope that other signatories to ACTA and countries negotiating similar trade agreements would consider implications of such agreements on their people’s right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health and allow for more public scrutiny of the agreements fundamental to their health.”

Independent experts, or special rapporteurs, are appointed by the Geneva-based Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.

Last year, the Council asked Special Rapporteur Grover to study existing challenges with regard to access to medicines, ways to overcome them and good practices. He is scheduled to present his study to the Council in June 2013.