"EFTA countries shall not endanger public health and food security in Southern Africa" NGOs request.

Zurich, 04.11.2004 - Today 57 organizations sent a letter* to the trade and foreign ministers of EFTA member states (Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein), urging them not to include provisions that would restrict access to medicines and farmers rights in a free trade agreement under negotiation with the five countries of SACU (Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland). Both parties want to conclude the negotiations before the end of 2004. According to recent statements by Swiss officials, EFTA countries are pushing for stronger intellectual property rights on medicines and in agriculture in SACU countries. This move would have lasting and negative consequences on public health and food security in Southern Africa.

In a September 2004 reply to a question by Swiss Members of Parliament, the Swiss Government confirmed that it intends to include in the agreement provisions that would strengthen intellectual property protection in SACU (Southern African Customs Union) countries. Those provisions go beyond the obligations under the WTO TRIPS agreement (thereafter "TRIPs-plus" provisions). EFTA (European Free Trade Association) has already managed to include such provisions in earlier free trade agreements with developing countries (e.g. EFTA's free trade agreements with Chile from 26 June 2003 and with Lebanon from 24 June 2004).

EFTA countries seek to introduce intellectual property provisions on medicines that would make it more difficult to introduce cheap generic medicines and therefore restrict access to medicines (up to 10 years protection on test data for market approval, up to 5 years patent extension). Such provision are totally inappropriate for countries facing the highest HIV/AIDS prevalence rates anywhere in the world (between 20% and 40% of adult population). Instead of strengthening monopolistic rights of pharmaceutical companies, the agreement should allow SACU countries to use generic competition in order to provide affordable medicines for their people.

In agriculture, EFTA countries want to introduce intellectual property provisions that would prevent farmers to freely re-use and exchange their seeds (even when there is a drought). Such provisions contradict the current practices of 90% of the farmers in the region and may threathen food security and biodiversity in SACU countries.

57 organizations from EFTA and SACU countries have endorsed the letter* urging the relevant EFTA ministers to exclude intellectual property provision from the agreement with SACU. By seeking stronger intellectual property rights for the benefit of their industries regardless of the public health and food needs of their Southern African trading partners, EFTA governments are also putting the image and reputation of their countries at stake.

Developing countries like the SACU states face huge challenges to achieve food security and optimal health care for their population. Therefore they need to keep sufficient freedom to adjust their intellectual property system to their needs. Intellectual property provisions in bilateral free trade agreements, however, reduce such freedom.

The following organizations are endorsing the letter :

International NGOs: Oxfam International, GRAIN, AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa (ARASA)

South Africa: Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), Biowatch, Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference, Environmental Monitoring Group, SEATINI South Africa Chapter

Namibia: Aids Law Unit, Namibia Network of Aids Service Organisations (NANASO), Lironga Eparu

Liechtenstein: Liechtenstein Association for Environmental Protection (LGU), Verein Welt und Heimat; Aktion: Wir teilen. Das alternative Fastenopfer

Norway: Genesis, Utviklingsfondet/the Development Fund; Forum for utvikling og miljø/ Forum for Development and Environment; Naturvernforbundet/ Friends of the Earth – Norway; Natur og Ungdom/ Friends of the Earth Youth – Norway; Changemaker; Kirkens Nødhjelp/ Norwegian Church Aid; Norges Bondelag/ Norwegian Farmers’ Union; Attac Norway

Switzerland: Berne Declaration, Médecins sans Frontières Switzerland, Swiss Aids Federation, Swiss Coalition of Development Organizations, Greenpeace Switzerland, Swiss Interchurch Aid, Bread For All, Fondation Terre des Hommes, Fédération Genevoise de Coopération, Fédération Romande des Consommateurs, Comedia, Swissaid, Medicus Mundi Switzerland, SolidarMed, Antenne Sida du Valais romand, Association Romande des Magasins du Monde (ASRO), Attac Suisse, Basler Appell gegen Gentechnologie, Bethlehem Mission Immensee, Blauen-Institut, Coalition "A Gauche toute!", Co-operaid, DM-échange et mission, Enseignants Sans Frontières, HorYzon - la dimension internationale des Unions Chrétiennes Suisses, Parti Les communistes, Parti socialiste genevois, PLANeS, Restaure la Terre, SID'Action, SolidaritéS, Syndicat des services publics - section Genève, Vivere

France: Act-Up Paris