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This morning, in a small town in the region of Gent, Belgium, activists from Act Up-Paris woke up the European Commissioner for Trade in front of his house. They unfurled a banner which said ‘De Gucht, AIDS accomplice’. Karel De Gucht did answer on the phone but was sleepy and did not want to go out to talk to us. Because he didn’t answer, they made noise and chanted slogans such as ‘De Gucht, hands off our medicines’ and ‘De Gucht, AIDS war criminal, you have blood on your hands’.

FTA-4.jpgFor months now, the European Commission (E.C.) has been negotiating trade agreements, which, if signed, will have a dramatic impact for people living with HIV in developing world. While State members’ governments hardly manage to define a clear mandate to the European Commission within the frame of these agreements, the real decision-maker is, in the fact, the European Commissioner for Trade, Karel De Gucht. Assaulting generic medicine is assaulting access to health and access to care for hundred of thousands of people worldwide. As M. De Gucht has been, so far, indifferent to people living with HIV, we have decided to wake him up. Sunday or not, access to treatments cannot wait’ said Pauline Londeix, from Act Up-Paris. Act Up-Paris calls on the European Commission to immediately stop the negotiations of the Trade Agreements that are nowadays threatening the production and the exportation of lower cost generic drugs.
Generic medicines are indeed critical to ensure access to life-saving medicine in the developing world. Moreover, these medicines are essential if countries want to be able to achieve the commitments they took at the United Nations two weeks ago, to scale-up access to treatments for people with HIV, and to reach 15 million people worldwide with access to antiretroviral therapies by 2015. In these trade agreements negotiated by the E.C. with developing countries, the European Commission imposes a template and holds a hard-line, no matter which country they are negotiating with. E.C. consistently asks for an extension of the patent term to 10 years (30 years for exclusivity) as well as an increase of the data exclusivity of 10 years. The most well known agreement is the one negotiated with India, the first country producing generic medicines in the world. However, the E.C. has also made plans to start many other Free Trade Agreements with MERCOSUR, and many South-East Asian and African countries. Within these agreements, the E.C even imposes some parts of the ACTA (Anti-counterfeiting Trade Agreement). ACTA is another agreement that was negotiated by the European Commission, for 3 years, jointly with other northern countries, and only three developing countries (Singapore, Mexico and Morocco). This agreement, that will be presented to the European Parliament within the next months, sidesteps all the existing international organizations (WTO, WHO, WIPO, WCO) and threatens to harm cheap generic drugs’s exportations and fabrication.
Karel de Gucht supervises all these negotiations. The European Commissioner for Trade is irresponsible. Because of his defense of the interests of Big Pharma’s European industries, such as Sanofi-Aventis and GlaxoSmithKline, he sacrifices the life of millions of people. Europe has been pushing Free Trade Agreements that force drug monopolies on poor countries, whatever the consequences are in developing countries. The hunting to generic medicines has lasted long enough. It is now time for E.U. to show less murderous cynicism and more pragmatism if it really wants to save lives.