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An end to drug
tariffs could help HIV patients in third world nations

An end to drug
tariffs could help HIV patients in third world nations

The United 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 statement.

The United 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.

The United 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." (Reuters)

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