Southern African countries have taken a firm stand against EFTA demands on Intellectual Property Rights in Free Trade Agreement

Zurich, 04.03.2005 - A letter sent by South African Trade Minister Mandisi Mpahlwa to the Treatment Action Campaign in South Africa confirms, that the demand of EFTA Countries (Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein) to include provisions on Intellectual Property Rights relating to medicines and agriculture in the Free Trade Agreement with SACU has been rejected.

Last November a coalition of 57 organisations sent a letter to the trade and foreign ministers of EFTA member states, urging them not to include provisions that would restrict access to medicines and farmers rights in the free trade agreement under negotiation with SACU (South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho and Swaziland). The same letter has been sent to the SACU Ministers.

The organisations have now been informed by the South African Trade Minister, Mandisi Mpahlwa that the SACU negotiators have taken a firm stand against EFTA demands on Intellectual Property Rights, which would have gone beyond the obligations under the WTO TRIPS Agreement (so-called TRIPS-plus demands): «South Africa's approach to trade negotiations is to always seek the best possible benefits for the country and for SACU in all areas under negotiation. (…) As SACU and EFTA have not been able to arrive at mutually beneficial outcomes in our IPR discussions, we have agreed to suspend negotiating any substantive commitments in this area. As a result the final agreement will contain none of the IPR obligations referred to in your letter.»

The coalition of NGOs congratulate the SACU ministers for saying «No!» to TRIPS-plus provisions, which would have had lasting and negative consequences on public health and food security in Southern Africa. The SACU position is an example for other developing countries which are faced by the same demands.

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. CTherefore civil society organisations in EFTA and SACU Countries urge their Ministers to set aside clauses about Intellectual Property Rights in all future Free Trade Agreements they negotiate with other partners.