Central American trade pact brews public health storm
Next month, five Central American nations and the Dominican Republic are expected to sign a trade pact with the United States. Under the pact, known as the Central American Free-Trade Agreement, many US exports of consumer and industrial goods will become duty free in Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic. In return, the US market will open up to many products from the six smaller countries.
Critics from the public health sector say that the agreement's strict intellectual property rights protection will make access to generic medications nearly impossible in the poorer nations. They say that the trade pact gives greater protection to patent holders and drug companies than in most previous agreements, including the World Trade Organisation's Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement.
But multinational drug companies and others defend the patent protection imposed by the pact, arguing that the measures are needed to protect investment required to turn a chemical entity into a marketable pharmaceutical product.
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