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High prices, poor access: What is Big Pharma fighting for in Brussels?

Big Pharma's lobby machine ground into top gear to defend its privileges, doing its best to remove or weaken regulatory measures. A close relationship with the Commission –which fails to take undue industry influence seriously– has played a key role, as has the lobbying firepower of Big Pharma. The top ten biggest spending companies, for example, have increased their lobby budget by €2 million since 2015, and Big Pharma's main lobby group EFPIA (European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations) sits on eight of the Commission’s advisory groups. Big Pharma has also rolled out a PR offensive harnessing the powerful emotions around illness, designed to deflect criticism and narrow the scope for debate. Thanks to this lobbying arsenal, the industry has succeeded in influencing the review into pharma incentives and rewards (such as intellectual property rules), as well as a change to a type of patent extension called an SPC (supplementary protection certificate) which allows companies to extend the period of monopoly pricing. It has also affected a proposal for EU collaboration to assess how effective new medicines and health technologies are relative to existing ones, something which helps member states negotiate prices. Drug companies promote the use of ‘new’ drugs because they still have patent protection, and are therefore more expensive, over old ones that don't, even if the new product is not an improvement in medical terms.

The WhistleBlower: Confessions of a Healthcare Hitman

By Peter Rost, MD This book is about drug prices, by a former Pfizer VP of marketing- An inside view of the drug industry, an industry that both saves the lives of people who have enough money to buy its increasingly expensive products, and also lobbies all around the world to keep its prices high. I'd also recommend watching the film "Fire in the Blood", which Peter Rost, the book's author, appears in, if you are interested in this subject.

Carrying a Good Joke Too Far: TRIPS and Treaties of Adhesion

"A small, unindustrialized country enters into an agreement with a significantly larger, more industrialized country. The agreement must be signed before the small country is permitted to join an exclusive, wealth- generating organization. The small country is facing an epidemic of epic proportions. Already, twenty-two million of its citizens have died as a result of a deadly virus and over thirty million of its citizens are infected. Almost three million die every year. Thirteen million children are orphaned; 15,000 new people acquire the virus every day. The average fifteen-year-old citizen has more than a fifty percent chance of dying of the virus and is more likely to die of the virus than all other causes combined. Finally, while the virus attacks indiscriminately, it impacts the country's economic driving force-its farmers, teachers, blue-collar workers, young adults, and parents -particularly hard. The disease is treatable, but at a cost well out of reach of the country's citizens. The country attempts to address this crisis by implementing two methods, parallel importation and compulsory licensing, which will drastically reduce prices and ensure the supply of drugs at affordable prices. Upon enactment, the larger industrialized country demands that the smaller country halt implementation because the methods violate its obligations under the agreement." (Sound familiar? It should.)

Celebrating Fair Trade in Cancun

This PDF flyer from 2003 was published by IATP and distributed during the WTO Ministerial in Cancun, Mexico. In just a few words it does a good job of explaing some key concepts about the WTO. It also introduces for beginners some of the core concepts of the concept of Fair Trade, a non-exploitative alternative to market totalitarianism.

GATS: Increasing LDC participation through negotiated specific commitments (Art. IV:1) (United Nations)

This is about public procurement of both goods and services by governments at the federal, and increasingly, state or local level. One of the goals of the WTO Government Procuerment Agreement, as well as the GATS is allegedly to assist the poorest countries businesses by bending the rules for a limited time in their favor. Normally, in the case of jobs, the *lowest* bidder (who may not necessarily be a firm from the very poorest countries, it may instead be a highly automated firm or one from another low wage country, but not one of the poorest ones.) gets a legal entitlement to perform work. However under some limited circumstances, LDCs' firms (firms based in the very poorest countries) may be able to bid for contracts and win even if their price is a bit higher than the lowest bidders. (this is called a "set aside" in the US, where they had traditionally been used to funnel work to women and minority owned businesses. These kinds of set asides seem to be subsumed by the newer kind in trade agreements.) Note these dispensations like this LDC Services Waiver which gives the poorest countries opportunities to perform work in the wealthier countries, even if they charge a bit more are only available under limited circumstances and only to the (very poorest) "LDC" countries in order to assist in the policy goal of helping their firms enter the world's markets faster. Similar rules apply to allow the poorest countries access to life saving medicines in medical emergencies.