- African Growth and Opportunity Act
TRALAC - Trade Law Centre
You are here: Home/News/Article/'Pharmaceutical industry attempting to undermine access to affordable medicines'

'Pharmaceutical industry attempting to undermine access to affordable medicines'

'Pharmaceutical industry attempting to undermine access to affordable medicines'
Published date:
Thursday, 13 August 2015

South Africa’s eligibility for ongoing inclusion in the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) is being used as a bargaining chip in pressure by the pharmaceutical industry to get the country to backtrack on intellectual property (IP) law reforms aimed at promoting access to more affordable medicines.

The Fix the Patent Laws coalition - Treatment Action Campaign (TAC)‚ Doctors Without Borders (MSF)‚ SECTION27 and the Stop Stock Outs Project - on Thursday expressed concern about this pressure bearing down‚ as evidenced by an American Chamber of Commerce in South Africa (AmCham) submission to the Office of the US Trade Representative last week.

Among the prominent AmCham members are some of the pharmaceutical companies behind the 2014 Pharmagate scandal‚ in which the US and European pharmaceutical industry sought to delay South African intellectual property law reform by financing a covert $600‚000 campaign.

Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi said at the time that the campaign sought to restrict access to crucial drugs and called it “genocide”. The minister also called on all South Africans to fight against such attempts "to the last drop of their blood".

“While there is no clear evidence the US government is linking AGOA eligibility to halting IP reform‚ the AmCham submission to the US Trade Representative makes it clear that AmCham members are lobbying the US government to exert such pressure‚” a joint statement by the coalition said.

AGOA is a nonreciprocal trade preference programme that provides duty-free treatment to US imports of certain products from eligible sub-Saharan African countries‚ including South Africa.

“AmCham’s submission shows no recognition of South Africa’s need for affordable medicines to address its severe disease burden of HIV‚ TB‚ and non-communicable diseases.

The AmCham letter says that although it was not its “intention to request that the US government exclude South Africa from AGOA”‚ it wanted to “use the AGOA 30 Review as leverage for action/changes in terms of policy issues that the South African government is pursuing”.

“We know there’s significant pressure on the South African government to abandon or to water down the proposed intellectual property law reforms. We have seen very worrying delays in finalising the national intellectual property policy‚ and 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 profits‚” said Anele Yawa of the TAC.

Earlier this year‚ the TAC had been informed by a well-placed source that the finalisation of South Africa’s 2013 draft intellectual property policy had been stalled in part because of AGOA-related pressure from the US government.

“On 25 June the TAC wrote to South Africa’s Minister of Trade and Industry Rob Davies noting concerns regarding the potential linking of AGOA eligibility to intellectual property law reforms. The letter requested minister Davies’ reassurance that the country would not abandon its process of reform due to pressure from the US. Despite confirming receipt‚ minister Davies has not responded to the letter to date.”

The proposed law reforms were a concerted effort by the government to ensure ordinary people in South Africa did not pay unreasonably high prices for medicines on account of low-quality and unwarranted patents‚ the statement said.

“Today it remains easy for multinational pharmaceutical companies to be granted multiple patents on existing medicines and prolong market monopoly periods. The proposed reforms would limit such ‘evergreening’ practices‚ and are fully in line with rules of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

“The South African Department of Trade and Industry and the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC) have already taken promising steps that suggest they will progress with intellectual property reform‚ and not cave in to US pressure.

“This week‚ the CIPC started the recruitment of 20 patent searchers to be trained for the eventual implementation of a patent search and examination system. Such a system already exists in Argentina‚ Brazil and India and will ensure that patent applications are examined rigorously.

“At the same time‚ the Department of Trade and Industry has initiated the process of intellectual property-related legislative reform‚ with the introduction in Parliament of a draft bill to amend the Copyright Act. The draft bill is currently open for public comment.”

“The South African Constitution places a positive obligation on the state to take all reasonable legislative and other measures to ensure the realisation of the right to access health care services‚ within its available resources.

“Reasonable legislative measures’ include precisely the kind of law reforms contemplated in South Africa’s draft intellectual property policy. Such constitutional obligations cannot be ignored when the South African government engages in trade negotiations‚” said Umunyana Rugege of SECTION27.

“We support the South African government’s efforts to fully incorporate public health flexibilities permitted by the WTO into our national laws‚ to promote access to medicines and medical technologies‚” said Catherine Tomlinson of MSF.

“We urge our government not to be swayed by pressure seeking to override South African sovereignty or limit our constitutional rights.”

RDM News Wire.

Read related news articles

South Africa walks a tightrope on US relations

South Africa has been conducting a high-wire act in its relations with the United States (US). It is maintaining friendships with Washington’s enemies like Russia, Iran and China while trying to avoid disrupting its economic relations with America. Tensions came closer than ever to breaking point this month as the US House of Representatives’ Committee on Foreign Affairs passed the US-South Africa Bilateral Relations...

28 March 2024

Remarks by Deputy Treasury Secretary Adeyemo on the US-South Africa economic relationship

As Prepared for Delivery in Johannesburg, South Africa Thank you for the warm welcome. I want to express my gratitude to Consul General Spera and the American Chamber of Commerce for hosting me. I am honored to be joined today by South African Entrepreneurs that are building companies to unlock the economic potential of their country.  I owe my own presence here today to the inspiration I drew from South Africa. In the middle of the...

13 March 2024

South African president Ramaphosa meets with US congressional delegation

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa today, 21 February 2024, received for a visit from a bipartisan congressional delegation from the United States of America, in Tuynhuys, Cape Town. The delegation is visiting South Africa at the invitation of the Aspen Institute. The President and the US congressional delegation discussed the importance of the relationship between South Africa and the US, which manifests in strong economic,...

21 February 2024

US congress receives Bill to review South Africa relations

A bill has been submitted to the United States congress calling for a full review of the country’s bilateral relationship with South Africa following the International Court of Justice ruling that found it plausible that Israel has committed acts of genocide against Gaza. The bipartisan bill which was introduced by US Republican congressman John James and Democratic Party congressman Jared Moskowitz this week could threaten South...

09 February 2024

Fitch research unit expects better AGOA deal for South Africa

Fitch’s research arm, BMI, believes SA has done enough to get improved trade terms under the African Growth & Opportunity Act (Agoa), which it expects to be extended and modified before its expiry in September 2025. But it warns that the deal might be stillborn if Donald Trump is elected US president. The research think-tank said in a note it assigns a 65% probability that Agoa will not only be renewed but modified to the benefit of...

09 January 2024

South Africa: BLSA CEO calls for more companies to leverage AGOA opportunities

Many more South African companies could benefit from the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which gives eligible countries access to US markets free of tariff barriers, business organisation BusinessLeadership South Africa (BLSA) CEO Busi Mavuso writes in her weekly newsletter. Apart from mainstream formal sector businesses, there are opportunities to enable more entrepreneurs, including women-led...

20 November 2023

US ambassador: AGOA is an opportunity to deepen ties between the US and South Africa

President Joe Biden last December at the US-Africa Leaders Summit affirmed that the US will elevate its relationship with Africa. The future is Africa. One example is its youthful population: the median age on the continent is 19. By 2050, one in four people in the world will be in Africa. The US wants them to be healthy and wealthy. What happens in Africa will affect the rest of the globe — and we want to work together to ensure it is...

09 November 2023

US Senator Chris Coons proposes AGOA extension by 16 years, immediate review of SA’s AGOA eligibility

Powerful US Democratic Party Senator Chris Coons is circulating a discussion draft of a Bill to renew the African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa) for 16 years that would also require an immediate “out-of-cycle” review of South Africa’s eligibility for Agoa. That could lead to South Africa being removed next year from the programme, which has provided considerable benefits to SA exporters to the US of cars, fruits and wine, in...

07 November 2023

AGOA benefits extend beyond trade [incl. VIDEO of Friday's opening session]

Economies in Sub-Saharan countries stand to benefit far more from the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) than notable trade statistics, says President Cyril Ramaphosa. “AGOA enhances the diversification of African economies, enabling them to export value-added products. By enabling African countries to have preferential access to the US market, this opportunity incentivises African countries to develop and export value-added goods...

06 November 2023

South Africa pins its hopes on an early 2024 US Congress renewal of AGOA

South Africa’s government is hoping that the process to renew the African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa) by the US Congress will be concluded by early 2024, ensuring that more than 20 African countries continue to have duty-free access to the world’s largest economy.   This is the first time that the South African government has given a timeline for when it hopes the US Congress might extend Agoa, which has been renewed twice...

05 November 2023

SA trade minister Patel expresses confidence at media briefing about South Africa’s continued inclusion in AGOA

Ahead of South Africa hosting the US-AfricaTrade and Economic Cooperation Forum – also called the AGOA Forum – from November 2 to 4, Trade, Industry and Competition Minister Ebrahim Patel on October 26 briefed the media on the state of readiness for the forum, expressing confidence that the South African government’s relations with the US were strong. Various South African stakeholders have been motivating for...

26 October 2023

You are here: Home/News/Article/'Pharmaceutical industry attempting to undermine access to affordable medicines'