July 13, 2005

Thousands of Peruvians protest U.S. trade pact

LIMA, Peru (Reuters) - Thousands of Peruvians protested on
Wednesday against a proposed U.S.-trade pact that a United
Nations investigator warned would put medicines out of reach of
millions of poor people.

Farmers, doctors and politicians, some dressed as ghosts
and skeletons, marched through central Lima to decry a U.S
free-trade deal they see as a way of bullying Peru to allow
U.S. companies to dominate its markets.

"We're really worried about the impact this is going to
have. Not only are medicines going to get more expensive, but
fewer people will have access to drugs," said Manuel Izaca,
president of the association of Peruvian drug companies.

Colombia, Ecuador and Peru are negotiating the accord with
the United States aimed at boosting trade flows and economic
growth in the Andean nations. The Andeans had hoped to strike a
deal at the start of this year. Peru now hopes to conclude in

In Geneva, U.N investigator Paul Hunt of New Zealand urged
the United States not to pressure Peru into a trade pact and
suggested the deal would oblige Peru to enforce tougher patent
protection rules than those of the World Trade Organization.

To meet its international human rights responsibilities, he
said: "The U.S. must not apply any pressure on Peru to enter
into commitments that are inconsistent with Peru's
constitutional and international human rights obligations."

Hunt, an independent expert who monitors how U.N. accords
on the right to health are observed around the world, said he
was concerned that the accord would water down health standards
and bring "higher prices for essential drugs that millions of
Peruvians would find unaffordable."

Jose Carlos Vera, an economist specializing in the health
sector, told Reuters he estimated a free-trade deal would
increase the cost of medicines in Peru by $34 million in the
first year, a figure that could grow to $168 million in 2017.

The U.N. says that some 50 percent of Peru's 28 million
people live in poverty and that many die from treatable
illnesses because they cannot obtain, or pay for, drugs

But a U.S. official said the deal could actually bring down
drug costs because it would foster competition and iron out
distortions in Peru's internal market.

"You see it already with toothpaste. A new competitor comes
onto the market and prices begin to fall," said Timothy Stater,
Economic Councilor at the U.S. embassy in Lima.

Peruvians' fears echo concern among U.N. and
non-governmental groups that Washington, under pressure from
pharmaceutical firms, may be pushing for tough patent terms in
bilateral trade pacts with poorer nations.

Stater said the United States wants to negotiate a 5-year
data protection period on new medicines, while Peru wants the
duration to be only three years.

"Five years is not a long time, it's less than with other
trade accords and it's in line with the World Trade
Organization norms," he said.

The United States and Peru, Colombia and Ecuador will hold
a fresh round of the trade pact talks in Miami on July 18-22.