NAFTA - The Politics Behind Drug Production
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In the year 1993, the Canadian federal government ratified the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), with the ostensible purpose of improving trade relations and economic prosperity for the country. For ratification to proceed, and in response to pressure from the pharmaceutical industry, between 1987 and 1993 significant changes were made to Canada’s Patent Act. Changes included the elimination of a system of compulsory licensing and the strengthening of intellectual property rights (IPRs). Compulsory licensing allows competitors to produce drugs still under patent without the consent of the patent holder, if public interest, such as a public health emergency, warrants it, thus challenges drug monopolies and leads to lower prices, whereas intellectual property rights have the opposite effect – they lengthen patent protections, thus shielding patent holders from competition and leading to higher prices. The pharmaceutical industry strongly opposed compulsory licensing, and lobbied for strong IPRs, arguing that research and development (R&D) required for pharmaceutical innovation involved high risks and costs and that weak IPRs (weak by their standards) undermined job creation by the industry. Since then, R&D risks, in Canada and elsewhere, have all but decreased, the promised jobs are nowhere to be seen, and increasing drug prices have led to medication non compliance on the part of a growing number of Canadians, with significant impact on the public’s health. This paper argues that to ratify NAFTA, laws were changed by the federal government to align with US IPR laws and serve the interests of transnational drug corporations, by creating an environment in which they could easily monopolize the national drug market, thus undermining the interests of the vast majority of Canadians. In so doing, the federal government has done an injustice to taxpayers, who were de facto made to subsidize unreasonable prices for Big Pharma, while the promises of increased Canadian R&D investments or job creation were never fulfilled. I aim to answer three questions: 1) Why is drug development treated as a market good rather than a public good or service? 2) How do provisions within NAFTA, a treaty signed by representatives of the Canadian state, deal with the tension between private corporate interests and public needs? 3) What discursive mechanisms within NAFTA legitimize private intervention and drug development and production? I perform a critical discourse analysis (CDA) on relevant key provisions from Chapter 17 of NAFTA as a means of answering these questions.