20 January 2004

US Dems express FTA drug fears

Senior United States Democrats have raised fears the proposed free trade agreement (FTA) will push up the prices of Australian medicines as final talks over the deal get underway.

In a letter to President George W Bush, nine ranking Democrats, including House leader Nancy Pelosi, have criticised America's proposals to change Australia's Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).

They said the American proposal appeared aimed at pushing up Australian medicine prices.

It is the first evidence of a determined push by the US to change the PBS, a move so far resisted by the federal government which maintains the FTA will not change domestic medicine prices.

The final round of formal talks began in Washington, with about 50 Australian negotiators sitting down with their American counterparts.

Trade Minister Mark Vaile will head to the US at weeks' end to work through any sticking points in a round of talks with his American counterpart, Robert Zoellick.

Access to American farm markets, the PBS and government contract access have slowed down the negotiations which were hoped to be completed by the end of last year.

The letter by the Democrat Congress members is based upon a confidential outline of America's position on the PBS.

The Democrats said the American proposal was inconsistent with US policy and would harm Australia's system of affordable health care.

I seem to remmber being assured by John Anderson that the PBS would not be touched. Remmber that the Man of Steel can sign and ratify any FTA without parliamentary consent. If it contains NAFTA-style arbitration proceedings, the big US drug corporations can then try and achieve through arbitration what the Man of Steel could never get through parliament - abolishing the PBS or perhaps moving to 'PBS Plus'.

BTW, before anyone gets too excited about conspiracy theories, I'd point that the history of the common law is replete with collusive proceedings including (my personal favourite) ejectment:

Prof. Robertson notes that disputes concerning title to land were resolved by an action in ejectment. One claimed a trespass vi et armis (driven out violently), that is, a fictional tenant of the plaintiff was ejected from the land violently by a fictional tenant of the defendant. Under English common law, this common law writ was triable only to a jury of the vicinage, or neighborhood (because only neighbors would know enough to determine who was the rightful owner of the land).

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