ASEAN trade barriers fall, but will political barriers follow?

The new regional free trade agreement across ASEAN-China is off to a strong start: To date, about 99 percent of tariffs have been removed, with exemptions awarded to rice, tobacco and alcohol, along with scores of other sensitive items. Customs procedures are being harmonized and common standards applied. The regional economic integration across ASEAN has many observers comparing it to the EU. ASEAN countries have vast disparities developmentally, culturally, economically, and politically. Signatories will be absorbed at staggered dates, with the least developed countries like Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Burma to sign on 2015. Many investors are optimistic about tapping the potential high growth this particular FTA will bring, … [Read more...]

FTAs and Big Ag’s equivalent of the “financial innovations”

. The China-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) went into effect this year amid much anxiety by ASEAN. Years of stalling due to fears of a massive influx of already cheap and now subsidised Chinese goods that ASEAN countries cannot compete against finally fell amid the sudden loss of Western markets for Southeast Asian exporters in the crash of 2008. The fears haven't gone away. Barely hitting the news -and finally at that- are concerns faced by India in its free trade agreements (FTA) with Australia and New Zealand, as well as with the European Union and Japan. At issue are intellectual property (IP) regimes that use these instruments to harmonise protections (of seed varieties patented by agricultural multinationals as in the piece … [Read more...]

Free Trade and Pharmaceuticals

The average NGO or civic group does not have adequate capacity to actively participate in the increasingly complex policy and legal environment of global trade. This puts decisions and actions taking place in corporate headquarters and multilateral assemblies out of reach of the ordinary citizen. Here is the short-version international legal framework for essential medicines, proprietary drugs, and CAFTA.From GATT to the WTOThe end of WWII saw the creation of the World Bank (WB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to regulate international economic cooperation. These are known as the "Bretton Woods" institutions, named for the town in Vermont, USA, where negotiations took place. The package of trade rules which came out of this … [Read more...]

Free Trade: Patents versus Patients

It's been several years since US-backed Big Pharma sued South Africa for obstruction of profit when it bypassed patent laws to provide cheaper generic medicines for its burgeoning AIDS epidemic. The suit was retracted under furious backlash from advocacy groups worldwide. That battle has since stepped up with the ascendancy of IP (intellectual property) and trade imperatives. At issue are patent regimes affecting life-saving pharmaceuticals. It is critical to have flexibilities in global IP rules that accommodate situations whereby a country simply cannot afford brand name originator drugs to respond to a crisis. In protection of public health, and "to promote access to medicines for all", the WTO TRIPS (Trade Related Aspects of … [Read more...]