Harper: Don’t buy what France is peddling on drug patents in Canada-EU trade deal

Media Release
March 13, 2013

Ottawa – The Canadian Health Coalition and Council of Canadians are asking the Harper government, and the provinces of Quebec and Ontario, not to cave in to pressure from French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault to extend patent terms and other monopoly protections on brand name drugs in the ongoing Canada-EU trade negotiations (CETA). Mr. Ayrault will meet Prime Minister Harper, Quebec Premier Pauline Marois and Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne this week to discuss the CETA negotiations, including European proposals related to intellectual property rights on brand name drugs.

“France is home to many of Europe’s biggest brand name drug companies who are pushing Canada to make expensive patent term extensions in the CETA negotiations,” says Mike McBane, national coordinator of the Canadian Health Coalition. “Why should Ontario and Quebec subsidize European drug companies to the tune of an extra $1 billion a year, when they have stopped investing in Canada? Canadians would not be too thrilled with the idea, either, but then the federal and provincial governments have not been very transparent about these very large and imposing trade negotiations.”

poll conducted by Ipsos Reid, and released late last year by the Council of Canadians and the Canadian Health Coalition, showed that what would otherwise be high support for a Canada-European Union free trade deal in principle collapses on the issue of pharmaceutical drug costs. More than two thirds of Canadians (69 per cent) would oppose CETA if the deal included lengthening patent protections for brand name drugs.

“There are many reasons to oppose the Canada-EU trade deal, but the idea that Harper would use the deal to basically sign a blank cheque over to Big Pharma is one of the more disturbing,” says Adrienne Silnicki, health care campaigner with the Council of Canadians. “Brand name drug companies have been failing Canada for years, with research and development investment dropping to record low levels despite previous promises to innovate and create jobs in the country. Caving in to the EU’s patent demands in CETA would simply take people’s hard-earned money and use it to pad corporate profits.”

The added costs associated with changing Canada’s intellectual property rights regime for pharmaceuticals would eliminate any planned savings at the provincial level through bulk purchasing of generic drugs. CETA could also put barriers in the way of a badly-needed national pharmacare program unless Canada and the provinces carve out health insurance from the deal’s investment commitments.

“While Canada’s existing public health insurance system would probably be protected, if future Canadian governments expand Medicare to new services (such as pharmacare or home care) they could face compensation claims from European investors under the investment protection provisions of the CETA,” says a Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives briefing note on CETA and health care for the Canadian Health Coalition.

-30-