Defeat of antipiracy treaty is hailed as victory for generic drugs

BMJ 2012; 345 doi: (Published 09 July 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e4660
  1. Peter Moszynski
  1. 1London

The European parliament’s refusal to ratify the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) has been warmly welcomed by health and development agencies, which have said that the treaty posed a serious threat to poor countries’ access to generic drugs.1

This is the first time that the parliament has voted against an international trade agreement that had been approved by the European Commission. After massive lobbying by campaigners, which included a petition signed by over 2.8 million people worldwide, the agreement was defeated by an overwhelming majority, with 478 votes against and only 39 in favour.

Oxfam’s spokeswoman Leïla Bodeux said, “Today marks a real turning point, a victory for poor people over the interests of big pharmaceutical companies. ACTA could have made lifesaving drugs much costlier for the world’s poorest, resulting in devastating consequences for their health. With Europe’s rejection, we’re now hugely relieved that ACTA is going nowhere.”

Oxfam particularly objected to provisions imposing third party liability on the companies supplying affordable drugs, which could have prevented these companies from participating in the global production and distribution of generic drugs, “negatively affecting the industry and reducing global availability of quality, affordable medicines.”

Médecins Sans Frontières also welcomed the defeat of a measure it described as “a blank cheque for abuse.” Aziz ur Rehman, adviser on intellectual property to the charity’s access to medicines campaign, explained, “The way it was written, ACTA would have given an unfair advantage to patented medicines and restricted access to affordable generic medicines to the detriment of patients and treatment providers alike.”

The agreement was intended to protect against counterfeiting across a number of industries, including drug manufacturing, where it was held up as a way to block potentially harmful counterfeit drugs.2

Médecins Sans Frontières said that it strongly supported efforts to ensure that generic drugs met accepted international standards but argued that the agreement’s “overbroad definition of counterfeiting” and its excessive enforcement provisions “left too much room for error.” Legitimately produced generic drugs could have been seized and detained, “hindering access for people who rely on these medicines to survive.”

The charity said that it is a “public health necessity” that the trade in affordable and legitimate drugs “functions smoothly and without undue burdens.”

The president of the European parliament, Martin Schulz, said that it “staunchly supports the fight against piracy and counterfeiting, which harm European companies and pose a threat to consumer health and European jobs.” However, a majority of parliamentarians were of the opinion that the agreement was too vague, “leaving room for abuses and raising concern about its impact on consumers’ privacy and civil liberties, on innovation and the free flow of information.”

Ur Rehman said, “The European Union trade commissioner, Karel de Gucht, should take heed: the vote on ACTA has shown that these harmful policies are unacceptable to European parliamentarians and some member states. The commission should rethink its approach on intellectual property enforcement measures in free trade and other agreements.”


Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e4660


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