When in the name of national security, the United States threatened Bayer with copying Cipro, the firm’s patented antibiotic for anthrax, unless the German chemical giant did not lower its prices, it almost joined the ranks of the third world countries that it has been carping on for stripping patents from North-American pharmaceutical companies.
These countries, such as Brazil, India and African nations, usually copy a patented medication in national laboratories and render production much cheaper, without paying the pharmaceutical company a penny. While these companies invested billions of dollars in research, it is also true that these countries have health issues that may, too, threaten national security.
The free treatment that Brazil accords to AIDS patients helps keep a largely poor segment of the population alive and well. Keeping them healthy with government-subsidized drugs that inhibit the replication of the AIDS virus is cheaper than treating them in hospitals every time they get the flu.
The UN lauded Brazil’s treatment plan for its humanitarian effort. The program proved that, if people were armed with enough information, they would take the medication as directed – regardless of their level of education. Brazil’s treatment policies and HIV/AIDS education campaign have inspired similar action by African countries ravaged by the epidemic.
The fight over patent protection may now lose steam as the United States steps up its efforts to build an international coalition to continue its crackdown on terrorism and rebuild Afghanistan. It will appeal to world leaders, claiming its fight against terrorism is a fight all countries should join. It will continue to vehemently denounce countries it claims harbor terrorist groups, vow to punish the ones which do and ask its allies to do the same. This war propaganda sounds very good but will only succeed with real schmoozing.
Developing countries will gladly join the alliance against terrorism – but only if they get something in return. And the United States will probably have to ignore past contentions to gain their cooperation. With no internal strife to worry about but serious economic contentions with developed countries, nations such as Brazil will seize the opportunities to demand flexibility from rich countries. They will try to gain access to normally closed markets in products where they have a comparative advantage, such as agriculture and raw manufacture.
Russia, a strategic ally, will step up its campaign to play down the alleged human rights abuses in Chechnya that have long thwarted its entry into the WTO. It will seize its golden ring to claim Chechen rebels have ties to Al-Qaeda. If the United States wants Russia on its side, it will have to buy into the Russian argument – just as it suddenly forgot China’s human rights abuses against the Falun Gong earlier this fall. The United States had long decried China’s crackdown on Falun Gong followers but was conveniently silent when the communist country bid to host the 2008 Olympic Games (which it will) and its entry to the WTO, which was approved on Monday.
While it costs $211 to make a steel plate in the United States, it costs $153 to make the same in Brazil. Yet the United States has stringent barriers that stave off the entry of Brazilian steel into the American market. The U.S. government claims the trade barriers are to protect the country from “dumping” practices – the selling of goods at prices well below the product’s cost. It chooses to subsidize the American steel industry while paying more for a product that could be bought for significantly less.
But steel is not alone. U.S. farmers – a powerful economic constituency – are too heavily subsidized and continuously lobby to restrict the influx of foreign agricultural products.
But now its seems the United States can no longer afford to appease its protected industries. If it wants its allies to support its efforts (or at least pretend they do) and to successfully court new friends, it will have to bow to their demands.
Mauricio Vieira is a public relations graduate student in the School of Communications.