States, Switzerland, and Singapore have proposed that
countries eliminate tariffs on medicines and medical devices
as part of a new world trade deal, U.S. trade
officials said on Monday. "It is ironic that many of
the countries that are in urgent need of cheap
medicines also have a significant tax added to the drugs and
the medical devices they import," Peter Allgeier, U.S.
ambassador to the World Trade Organization, said in a
States, which is home to many of the biggest pharmaceutical
companies, is often criticized for seeking drug patent
protections in trade pacts that opponents say increase
the cost of medicines for poor countries. Allgeier
argued that developing countries could reduce drug and
medical costs for their citizens by immediately eliminating
the tariffs, which he said account for only a small
portion of government revenue in developing countries.
The 149 members
of the WTO are trying to reach a new world trade deal by
the end of 2006.
Nations estimated that almost $33 billion in annual
pharmaceutical trade and $23 billion in medical equipment
trade are subject to import duties, mostly by
developing countries, the U.S. Trade Representative's
office said. A World Health Organization report last
year found that many countries struggling with severe public
heath problems such as HIV/AIDS continue to impose
tariffs on imports of medicines and medical devices,
the trade office added.
A recent joint
research paper from the American Enterprise Institute and
the Brookings Institution concluded that removal of tariffs
and taxes on essential drugs would likely "save
thousands of lives across the developing world."