Coming home to roost
It didn’t take long for the government’s FTA chicken’s to come home to roost. Not surprisingly, the US government repeated its earlier statementthat it had serious problems with the amendments introduced by Labor to stop ‘evergreening’ of pharmaceuticals (a device to extend effect patent life using trivial variations on existing patents).
More interesting is that Big Pharma is already acting as if the agreement is set in concrete, heavying the Howard government over its own election promises. All of this is as I predicted, using the arguments of Christopher Pearson. Following Pearson’s summary of the arguments Big Pharma could use against the Labor amendments, I observed
What’s critical to note here is that these points have nothing to do with the specific content of Labor’s amendments. They apply to any legislation concerning the PBS that an Australian government might seek to introduce in the future and, arguably, to any administrative decisions made by Ministers. If Pearson is correct1, the FTA gives the Americans an effective veto power over anything we might attempt to do to improve the functioning of the PBS. It’s notable that Pearson’s points are almost identical to those that have previously been made by critics of the deal, and pooh-poohed by the government.
If there was ever a time for Howard to earn the “Man of Steel” moniker hung on him by George Bush. He should demand an exchange of letters from the US side making it clear that we can take whatever action we deem necessary to protect the PBS. If this isn’t forthcoming, he should walk away from the deal and see what he can get out of the next US Administration, or the one after that if necessary.
fn1. After some hamfisted interventions on other issues, the US did the right thing in waiting until after the election to raise these concerns.