SA trade official digs in on intellectual property draft
South Africa's Department of Trade and Industry is not going to pander to any side when it comes to its intellectual property policy, director-general Lionel October said on Thursday.
The American Chamber of Commerce in SA (AmCham) has urged the US trade representative to use its review of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa) to pressure SA’s government to change the draft policy in favour of US companies.
AmCham represents 250 companies operating in SA, including several multinational pharmaceutical firms that were involved in the "Pharmagate" row with Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi over medicine patents last year. The row centred on a leaked strategy crafted by a US lobby group to fight government plans to change its intellectual property regime to make it easier to get cheap generic medicines onto the market.
In its written submission to the trade representative, AmCham said: "The draft policy now under consideration by the government, is concerning to American companies because the overall intent appears to weaken current standards that are important to investors and innovators, including with respect to substantive search and examination, restrictions on patentable subject matter, and use of compulsory licensing as an industrial tool."
Health activists on Thursday took issue with the submission.
Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) spokesman Marcus Low said: "In the context of what we’ve seen before it’s not surprising but they are asking the trade representative to do something inappropriate." AmCham had failed to recognise SA’s need for affordable medicines to tackle its high burden of HIV, tuberculosis and noncommunicable diseases, he said.
The TAC, Médicines Sans Frontières, Section 27 and the Stop Stockouts Project made a joint submission to the trade representative, countering AmCham’s position.
"We hope the South African government will not be moved to compromise the health of its citizens in order for US pharmaceutical companies to continue to reap massive rewards," TAC spokesman Anele Yawa said.
AmCham CEO Carol O’Brien said in her written submission that it was not the chamber’s intention to request that the US exclude SA from Agoa.
"Our intention … is to use the Agoa 30-day review as leverage for action/changes in terms of policy issues the government is pursuing," Ms O’Brien said.
Mr October said that the department was still working on its intellectual property policy, a draft version of which was released for public comment in 2013.
Officials had received input and consulted among stakeholders with divergent views.
"We obviously won’t pander to one side or another," he said.