Intended for healthcare professionals


The free trade agreement between Australia and the United States

BMJ 2004; 328 doi: (Published 27 May 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;328:1271
  1. Peter Drahos, professor of law,
  2. David Henry, professor of clinical pharmacology (
  1. Research School of Social Sciences, Australian National University, ACT 0200, Australia
  2. School of Medical Practice and Population Health, University of Newcastle, NSW 2308, Australia

    Undermines Australian public health and protects US interests in pharmaceuticals

    On 4 March 2004 Australia and the United States released the text of a bilateral trade agreement designed to reduce trade barriers between the countries.1 Surprisingly, the Australian pharmaceutical benefits scheme (the national drug subsidy programme operated by the federal government of Australia) was part of the deal, with Australian negotiators conceding to several US demands. These included the creation of an independent review body to examine drugs rejected by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee. Under existing legislation only the advisory committee can recommend listing of drugs for subsidy. However, the dissenting views of another review body, supported by publicity and lobbying, may undermine the famously tough stance of this committee concerning the cost effectiveness and prices of pharmaceutical products. In addition, Australia has agreed to changes in intellectual property protection that, among other things, increase the risk of delayed entry of generic drugs on to the Australian market. The use of the trade agreement to push the interests of US pharmaceutical companies is one in a long list of hostile moves that have included legal challenges to the decisions of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee to reject drugs for …

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