Negotiations for an FTA between the EFTA states and Thailand began in 2005. By the second round, domestic political upheaval had already brought the talks to a standstill. They were not resumed until mid-2022, on the basis of new negotiating mandates. In this agreement, Switzerland is again trying to push Thailand to adopt strict intellectual property rights, both for medicines and seeds. Public Eye has been fighting these demands from the very start and will intensify its efforts as the negotiations have resumed.

Even before the first round of negotiations took place, Public Eye and the Liechtensteinische Gesellschaft für Umweltschutz (Liechtenstein Association for Environmental protection) joined forces with 15 other NGOs from EFTA countries to write a letter to the then UN Special Rapporteur on the right to the highest attainable standard of health. They informed him that the provisions on intellectual property that EFTA states wanted to integrate into the agreement, risked hindering access to affordable generic drugs in Thailand (see “Switzerland attacks compulsory licensing”).

Affordable medicines are critical

In light of the many people in Thailand living with HIV/Aids, access to affordable drugs is vital. The organisations thus asked the Special Rapporteur to send an urgent appeal to the EFTA countries, calling on them to fulfil their human rights obligations and to refrain from including stronger rules on intellectual property which would limit Thailand’s ability to provide its population with affordable drugs.

Public Eye was also active in the run up to the second round of negotiations; together with a broad coalition of civil society organisations from Thailand, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland, it sent a letter to the trade ministries of the EFTA states. It demanded that no provisions that could potentially jeopardise the provision of medication, farmers’ rights or access to affordable loans be included in the free trade agreement.

In addition, during a visit to Switzerland, two Thai experts noted the danger posed by the TRIPS-plus provisions to Thailand’s agricultural and healthcare sectors.

Resistance in civil society

Even since the relaunch of negotiations, civil society organisations in Thailand and Switzerland have still been resisting EFTA demands for stricter patent laws. During a visit to Thailand, the EFTA Parliamentary Committee met with local NGOs and heard civil society organisations forcefully point out the dangers of strict intellectual property rights in the field of agriculture and health care. They impressively highlighted the dangers for the Thai population and announced that they would put up fierce opposition to any demands in this respect.

In the run-up to their trip to Thailand, the Seed Coalition, co-sponsored by Public Eye, also briefed the parliamentarians on the EFTA Committee on the anticipated impact of strict plant variety protection on farmers’ rights, food security and the country’s rich biodiversity. In particular, it highlighted that Thailand already has a Plant Variety Protection Act that is consistent with relevant WTO obligations and ensures a balance between both intellectual property rights and farmers' rights. This is apparently also the thinking of the Thai government, as it thus far seems to be firmly resisting intellectual property rights claims in the negotiations.