Press: ‘FTA with EU will kill HIV patients’

Source: Free Malaysia Today, 28.2.2011, by Patrick Lee

Prices of medicine will be beyond reach to many once talks are concluded and they are likely to die as a result.

KUALA LUMPUR: A Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the European Union (EU) will significantly raise prices of much-needed anti-HIV medicine, according an advocacy group.

Positive Malaysian Treatment Access and Advocacy Group director Edward Low said that cheaper, generic HIV medicine cannot be sold in Malaysia after EU-FTA talks conclude.

“The FTA would stop locally-made generic medicine, or even from India, to be imported here,” said Low during an anti-FTA protest in front of the Prince Hotel here today.

About 50 Oppressed People’s Network (Jerit) and Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) members also joined in the protest.

PSM officials said that EU representatives and government officials were going to engage in FTA negotiations at the hotel, but they were told the meeting would only be held tomorrow.

The group later presented a memorandum to the EU office along Jalan Tun Razak. More than 10 police officers were present at the protest, though they did not interfere.

Acoording to a Jerit brochure, medicine prices would increase in the face of an FTA because of tightened Intellectual Property protections.

The brochure added that medicine prices in Guatemala had upped multi-fold after it entered into a FTA with the United States.

Low said that more than 93,000 out of an estimated 150,000 HIV patients depended on cheap anti-retroviral drugs to keep them alive.

“If we stop using these drugs, we’ll die,” he said, adding that the drugs were currently subsidised by the government, allowing patients to collect them for free.

He said that an FTA would force generic drug-companies out of the market, and penalise the Malaysian government for dealing with them.

This, he said, would make HIV medicine too expensive for most patients to buy.

SMEs also threatened

DAP economist Charles Santiago said that an FTA would enable a foreign company to take the Malaysian government to court in the event of a business infringement.

He also said that a FTA would end government procurement, and spell the death knell of the country’s Small-Medium Enterprises (SMEs).

“When an FTA is signed, both workers and SMEs will lose their jobs… because it destroys their livelihood,” he said.

“After a FTA, government procurement will be opened to foreign companies to come in to compete for tenders.”

“The government would also have to follow the dictates of the EU when it comes to policies,” added the Klang MP.

PSM-Sungai Siput MP Michael Jeyakumar Devaraj said that it was better for Malaysia to enter into a FTA with less powerful regions such as Africa and Asean.

“We can’t play with rich nations,” he said. “If they wanted to lower their tariff, we would have to lower our tariffs.”

Devaraj also said that a FTA would be more favourable to large corporations, and would sideline low-income workers such as farmers.

According to the Jerit-drafted memorandum, a EU-FTA would insist that Malaysia cut its agricultural tariffs.

“This will expose local chicken and other farmers to subsidised imports from the EU and sold at prices below Malaysia’s cost of production, discouraging them from farming,” said the memo.

It added that Ghana’s chicken farmers ended up with a mere 11% domestic market share as opposed to the previous 95% market share when country’s chicken tariffs were cut and was flooded with subsidised EU chicken.

“If this happened in Malaysia, it would leave it more dependent on imported food and made vulnerable when such imports dry up in times of shortage,” it said.


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