On 6 September 2012, Japan’s ruling party, the House of Representatives, ratified the controversial Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) in the absence of opposition parties, counting only the votes of the ruling party. Critics have denounced the move as undemocratic, also claiming that the Japanese mass media has marginalised the issue in the arena of public debate. Meanwhile, processes in several ACTA signatory states seem to be stalled. The author of this article notes that it is unlikely that ACTA will become an international treaty, with an apparent stalemate between the United States administration and legislators about ratification procedures, and the European Union’s recent vote against ratifying the agreement. Besides Japan, seven governments are reported to have signed ACTA, namely Australia, Canada, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea and the United States. Switzerland has not signed nor ratified. ACTA will have significant repercussions for public health, as the treaty aims to strengthen patent protection for pharmaceutical companies, wuth negative consequences for the production of affordable generic medicines in the developing world.
Health equity in economic and trade policies
Southern African states are being alerted to the concessions on intellectual property rights that they can take advantage of within the agreement on Trade-Related Aspects on Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) by the Southern African Regional Programme of Access to Medicines and Diagnostics (SARPAM). SARPAM is communicating the flexibilities within the TRIPS to protect public health, including compulsory licensing and parallel importation, as they note that many of these concessions are not yet being used by African countries to access essential medicines. They article reports ways that states and activists have advanced use of these flexibilities. For example in 2002, Zimbabwe used of one of them after declaring a period of emergency to override anti-retroviral medicine patents to import generic medicines for HIV. The article notes that the issue still demands activism. In March 2016, for example, activists marched to the Johannesburg offices of the multinational pharmaceutical company Roche to put pressure on the company to lower the extremely high cost of a life-saving cancer drug.
TAC activists picketed at the opening of the Africa Intellectual Property (IP) Forum on 26 February 2013 and handed over a memorandum to Rob Davies, South Africa’s Minister of Trade and Industry. They were demanding that the draft IP policy, which will lead to patent law reform, be made public. TAC also said that those living with HIV and TB and civil society need to be included in the process that will shape laws that will have an impact on access to medicines and healthcare. Minister Davies responded that the draft policy was now in its final stages and would be released for public comment soon. Davies spoke of the need for South Africa’s IP policy to balance the rights of innovators and the rights of humanity by ensuring incentives for innovation as well as ensuring public health and access to medicine. He highlighted the role of generic medicines in fighting disease in South Africa and was clear that generics are not the same as counterfeits. TAC and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) are calling for a local patent examination system to replace the existing automatic system. Fewer patents will mean more competition and lower prices, critical in light of the fact that South African patients are paying much more for life-saving drugs than counterparts in other developing nations.
Africa needs the capacity and donor aid to react swiftly to deal with a potentially large-scale outbreak of bird flu, a conference of experts from 19 African countries heard yesterday. "Africa needs a rapid response to the disease and must draw up practical measures to control and prevent the disease," Malawi's Agriculture Minister, Uladi Mussa, said on the opening day of the conference in the capital, Lilongwe.
Tony Blair is running out of time on achieving the third and most controversial part of the 'Marshall Plan for Africa' he promised earlier this year: trade justice. With just weeks to go before critical World Trade Organisation talks in Hong Kong, Europe and the US are in deadlock over how far they should open up their markets to farmers from poor countries - and what they will demand from the rest of the world in return.
The Rockefeller Foundation, the African Development Bank and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa convened in December 2014 at the Africa Forum on Inclusive Economies, a Pan African convening aimed at bringing together key thought leaders and policy makers to closely interrogate and propel forward, thinking around the theme of advancing inclusive economies. The convening aimed to focus new ideas and narratives towards the advancement of an inclusive economies approach with key African institutions and influencers and to provide a platform to further enhance thinking and critical debate on the issue of inclusive economies. Reports, videos and a blog from the convening can be found on the website.
Africa is still held captive by colonial borders and has failed to collectively leverage benefit-sharing agreements that result from multinationals’ commercial pursuit of indigenous knowledge, said speakers at the Africa Intellectual Property (IP) Forum, held in South Africa in February 2013. The issue of applying intellectual property rights to indigenous knowledge, in order to protect holders of this knowledge from exploitation while at the same time leveraging it for development was a vibrant thread of debate throughout the conference, which was themed ‘Intellectual property and economic growth in Africa’. Opening speaker Carlos Correa from the South Centre recommended flexibility in drawing up national IP policies. He told delegates that historical evidence has shown little or no support for the view that intellectual monopoly is an effective method of increasing innovation. Other speakers warned of the threat of biopiracy in Africa, and highlighted the role of academic researchers in contemporary biopiracy, who function as intermediaries between the commons (public cultural knowledge) and pharmaceutical companies looking for patents. A number of African countries have already adopted IP policies and plans, namely Liberia, Mozambique, Rwanda, Senegal, Seychelles and Zambia.
The report Honest Accounts 2017: how the world profits from Africa’s wealth explores how Africa’s wealth is effectively “stolen” from the continent and “calculates the movement of financial resources into and out of Africa and some key costs imposed on Africa by the rest of the world”. Nick Dearden, director of Global Justice Now, writes that although there is money coming into the continent in the form of remittances, there is a larger amount leaving the continent in the form of taxes, “repatriate[d]” profits and illegal trade. A 2014 estimate suggests that rich Africans were holding a massive $500-billion in tax havens. Africa’s people are effectively robbed of wealth by an economy that enables a tiny minority of Africans to get rich by allowing wealth to flow out of Africa. With few exceptions, countries with abundant mineral wealth experience poorer democracy, weaker economic growth, and worse development. The author raises that to prevent tax dodging, governments must stop prevaricating on action to address tax havens.
"Africa is rich, but we steal its wealth". That's the essence of a report from several campaign groups released in May 2017. Based on a set of new figures, it finds that sub-Saharan Africa is a net creditor to the rest of the world to the tune of more than $41bn. It reports that there is money going in to sub-Saharan Africa the tune of around $161bn a year in the form of loans, remittances from those working outside Africa and sending money back home, and from development aid. There's also $203bn leaving the continent. Some of this is direct, such as $68bn from taxes foregone, such as when multinational corporations legally organise flows to indicate that they are generating their wealth in tax havens. These flows are asserted by the author to amount to around 6% percent of the continent's entire gross domestic product and three times what Africa receives in aid. The report estimates that $29bn a year is being lost from Africa through illegal logging, fishing and trade in wildlife. Given these and other sources of loss the author asserts that if African countries are to benefit from foreign investment, they must be allowed to - even helped to - legally regulate that investment and the corporations that often bring it.
The idea that Africans have never had it so good is rapidly becoming economic orthodoxy. This article comments that foreign investors, media and politicians from William Hague to Jacob Zuma have championed a narrative usually summed up in two words: "Africa rising". However the author asserts that the majority of Africans themselves feel that the picture is far less rosy, complaining that the continent's much vaunted economic growth is failing to trickle down to their daily lives, according to the biggest survey of its kind. "After a decade of growth in Africa, little change in poverty at the grassroots," is the title of a report by the Afrobarometer research project, covered in the article which questioned 51,605 respondents in 34 countries from October 2011 to June this year. He reports critics who have warned that the boom is benefiting only a narrow elite while leaving the poor and jobless behind, exacerbating inequality and potentially sowing seeds of unrest. The wave of "Afro-optimism" should be qualified, they argue.