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AIDS Activists Storm U.S. Trade Representative's Office

Demanding Essential HIV Medication for Every Nation

Putting Profits Ahead of Saving Lives is NOT Acceptable


Compiled By GayToday

Washington D.C.-- United States Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky received a surprise Tuesday morning when AIDS activists from ACT UP and other groups stormed and occupied her office on the second floor of the USTR building.

Another five climbers chained themselves to her balcony with a large banner that demanded "Essential Medication for all Nations."
cbarshefsky2.jpg - 9.20 K U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky

The demonstrators threw dollar bills featuring Barshefky's image, and empty pill bottles symbolizing the effect of the USTR's bullying of nations hard-hit by HIV/AIDS.

Ambassador Barshefsky, a Clinton cabinet appointee and chief trade negotiator for the U.S. Government, will represent the U.S. at the upcoming World Trade Organization Ministerial (WTO) in Seattle (Nov 27-Dec 3).

Sources state that the USTR plans to lead opposition against proposals from developing countries who need to increase their access to "essential medicines" during TRIPs agreement talks in Seattle, according to a leaked report from behind-the-scenes "Green Room" negotiations with the World Trade Organization's Director General in Geneva.

TRIPs is the World Trade Organization's agreement on intellectual property, including pharmaceuticals.

"Ambassador Barshefky uses threats of trade sanctions to force poor nations to abandon public health interventions that save millions of lives," stated ACT UP's Paul Davis.

"Now she and Clinton intend to use the World Trade Organization negotiations in Seattle to win an even bigger sledgehammer to crush the reasonable practices of nations seeking to save lives by providing life-saving medicines."

Related Stories from the GayToday Archive:
Profits or People? Africa & AIDS Drug Access

AIDS Treatment Access in Developing Countries

The Politics of Life and Death: Global Responses to HIV and AIDS

Related Sites:
United States Trade Representative

ACT UP

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The World Trade Organization Ministerial issues a declaration which forms the basis for the future of WTO negotiations. A number of countries led by Venezuela and Kenya are submitting revisions to the Ministerial Declaration. These countries are seeking to exempt the World Health Organization's list of essential medicines from the patent system for "developing [and] least developed trading partners."

Activists demanding an end to U.S. policy impeding access to life-saving medicines have been targeting Barshefsky and Vice President Gore. Yesterday's office takeover came on the heels of a 750 person demonstration October 6 at the USTR office.

actuplogo.jpg - 6.45 K Activists then targeted candidate Gore for his role as chair of the U.S./South Africa Bi-National Commission until he agreed to remove U.S. obstructions to South Africa's Medicines Act.

The 1997 Medicines Act permits local manufacture of generic versions of patented medicines. Barshefsky announced Gore's capitulation on September 17 [announcement: www.ustr.gov/releases/1999/09/99-76.html].

Barshefsky routinely levies sanctions and other punishments against poor countries' efforts to provide access to "essential medication" even though they do so within the legal framework of TRIPs.

The office of the USTR, often at the request of pharmaceutical interests, has 46 current actions against poor countries for using internationally accepted and WTO compliant measures such as compulsory licensing and parallel importing to save lives [report: www.cptech.org/ip/health/country/allcountries.html].

Background:

Compulsory licensing occurs when a country issues a permit for manufacturing a generic version of a patented product, paying a royalty to the patent-holder.

Parallel importing is the process of shopping around the globe for the best price for a patented product. The United States routinely issues compulsory licenses, and most Western European nations frequently use parallel importing for medicines [extended info:www.cptech.org].

"Green Room" negotiations are closed-door WTO functions in which member nations are excluded on an emergency basis to settle disputes. Nations seeking patent exemptions for certain pharmaceuticals were not given a part in recent negotiations. "Essential medicines," in this case, refers to the World Health Organization's regularly updated "Model List of Essential Drugs."

AIDS Activists have vowed to return to Washington on November 30 for a large protest at the White House on the eve of World AIDS Day. Dozens of arrests are expected.

"This is what the U.S. has to offer to 90% of the people with HIV globally this World AIDS Day-- shameful policies from a trade superpower that guarantee the deaths of millions worldwide," said ACT UP member John H. Bell.

"This office takeover is a calling card. We are giving Barshefsky a send off to the humiliation she's going to face in Seattle in a few weeks," said Susan Whitaker of ACT UP Philadelphia.

"She values pharmaceutical company profits more than millions of human lives. We demand that she support the proposals of countries like Venezuela and Kenya, rather than oppose them."

ACT UP Demands:

  • USTR and other relevant departments must cease all actions interfering with efforts by poor countries to increase access to essential medicines. The announced terms of Vice President Gore's arrangement with South Africa must become U.S. global trade policy;

  • USTR must support, rather than oppose, the campaign of poor nations, including Venezuela, Kenya, and Pakistan, to revise the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS) agreement to exempt essential medicines from the patent system.

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