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NEWS: Drug patent issue could ‘make or break’ CETA

The Globe and Mail reports, “Later this month, inside a stylish Ottawa office complex overlooking the Rideau River, a marathon session of trade talks is set to take place between representatives from Canada and the European Union. While previous negotiations have roused little interest from ordinary Canadians, this round promises to be different. EU negotiators are asking for big changes to Canadian laws that govern intellectual property and patent protection for brand-name prescription drugs. …Some experts warn the issue could make or break the entire trade pact.”

“The Canadian Generic Pharmaceutical Association estimates the European proposals will add $2.8-billion a year in extra costs to Canadian drug plans – mostly by delaying the sale of generic drugs by an average of 3.5 years. …Canada’s Research-Based Pharmaceutical Companies, the industry organization for brand-name drug companies, argues that patent protection gives companies incentives to fund Canadian-based research and development.”

“While Canada, like other industrial countries, provides a 20-year life for patents on brand-name drugs, the lengthy clinical trial and regulatory approval processes mean a product has a much shorter period of exclusivity on the market – usually about nine years – before cheaper generic versions are allowed, according to the drug industry. Generic companies can pursue a legal challenge of patents at any time during the 20-year period. The Big Pharma companies, in turn, can launch litigation to block a generic’s market entry for up to 24 months, and sue for lost profits.”

“With that backdrop, EU negotiators are looking for three key changes to Canada’s IP regime. First, they want Canada to provide brand-name pharmaceutical companies with a robust appeals process against generic manufacturers. Second, they want Canada to extend how long Big Pharma can protect the data from its clinical drug trials. It is currently eight years in Canada versus 10 years in the EU. Third, they want Canada to provide ‘patent term restoration’ – a measure that exists in Europe and the United States and gives big pharmaceutical companies up to five years of extra market exclusivity for their drugs to credit them for time lost when obtaining regulatory approval.”
“Provinces and territories, which are sending envoys to attend this round of trade talks, are already struggling to contain health care spending.”

The Council of Canadians

– In October 2010, we first highlighted that the National Post reported, “Canada’s pharmaceutical industry and the European Union have been quietly lobbying for changes that could give brand-name drugs several years more patent protection here — and potentially add hundreds of millions of dollars to Canadian medication costs annually. …At least three provinces have written letters in support of the (brand-name) industry stance, including Alberta, where a senior aide in the premier’s office used to work for a major pharmaceutical company. …Quebec and New Brunswick also sent letters of support to Tony Clement, the federal Industry Minister.” That’s at

– Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow has repeatedly raised the issue during a cross-country CETA speaking tour we are doing in partnership with CUPE. So far, that tour has been to nine cities in seven provinces. More on that tour at

– This past May, trade campaigner Stuart Trew and health care campaigner Adrienne Silnicki met with an Ontario Ministry of Finance official to discuss health care, the pharmaceutical drugs issue and the Canada-EU free trade agreement. The ministry staffer listened but was unable to provide them with much information. In the end, he referred them to the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade with a promise to request that they met with the Council and its allies on this issue. That’s at

– The Council of Canadians is working in partnership with the Canadian Health Coalition to encourage people to respond to an action alert that calls on Prime Minister Stephen Harper to reject Europe’s demand that Canada lengthen the period of its monopoly drug patents and delay the availability of lower-priced generic drugs. That action alert is at

– And we have pointed out that Angelo Persichilli, Harper’s new communications director, wrote in the Toronto Star prior to his appointment, “If the pharmaceutical companies get what they want, billions of dollars will be taken out of our pockets and redirected straight into their bank accounts. …In a normal business, I would say that this [the EU] negotiating tactic was harsh but acceptable. But negotiating for profit by playing with the lives of human beings is repugnant. …For profit, multinationals want to bring prosperity — in the form of investment — to a country where prosperity already exists, while at the same time ignoring countries where people die because they don’t have money to satisfy the multinationals’ inhumane thirst for profit. …Will the government stand up for Canadians?” That’s at

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