ACTA: More than just a piracy issue

Protesters of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement wear Guy Fawkes masks. ACTA poses grave threat to public health. Photo by: Pierre Selim / CC BY

The hacking of the Irish Aidwebsite on Wednesday (Feb. 1) is nothing compared with the “grave threat” a controversial agreement poses to public health.

The hacked website carried a banner that said, “Stop Acta!” The statement referred to the controversial Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement signed by 21 members of the European Union — including Ireland — last week.

ACTA is a plurilateral agreement between 10 countries and the European Union that aims to establish a legal framework against counterfeit goods. The agreement, according to The Guardian, is scheduled for debate in June. It is yet to be ratified by the EU parliament.

While it will help curb the proliferation of counterfeit goods, many have raised concerns over its “chilling effects” on the production and trade of affordable medicines in the developing world.

International nongovernmental organization Oxfam identified problems in ACTA that will “undoubtedly” have an impact on access to affordable medicines. These were highlighted in a statement the organization released in October — the same month Australia, Canada, Japan, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea and the United States signed on the agreement.

Oxfam said ACTA redefines the word counterfeit. Instead of just targeting products intended to deceive consumers, ACTA targets even goods “suspected” of trademark infringement. This provision may lead to the removal of quality but affordable medicine from the market, which in turn can hamper health interventions.

Another issue raised by the organization is the border measures provision of ACTA. The provision states that “customs authorities may act upon their own initiative to suspend the release of suspect goods.”

Oxfam said this provision constitutes a “grave threat” to trade in generics. Apart from the provision possibly being imposed on goods “not confirmed to have infringed” on intellectual property rights, it applies to goods that are “merely in transit” through a signatory — even if the goods do not infringe on IP in their origin and destination.

“ACTA creates a risk that legitimate generic medicines could be detained by customs officials, interrupting the international supply of affordable medicines,” the statement said.

The European Commission sought to appease these concerns on generic medicines last month by saying ACTA does not have provisions affecting global health, directly or indirectly. The fact sheet states: “On the contrary, ACTA contains unequivocal language safeguarding access to health and expressly refers to the Doha Declaration on intellectual property and public health.”

But the Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure pointed out that the Doha Declaration was mentioned only once in ACTA. This, the FFII believes, is not enough to ensure “sufficient safeguards for access to medicine.”

The international humanitarian organization Médecins Sans Frontières launched a campaign in 2010 against attempts to restrict developing countries’ access to lifesaving generic medicines. It accused the European Union of being the driving force behind ACTA.

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About the author

  • Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.