Free trade treaties threatening access to low cost drugs and social services by persons living in conditions of poverty. Recommendation to conduct a study of the impact of trade standards on right to health and of the implementation of flexibility clauses in the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property of the World Trade Organization.
In its 39th session (May 16-June 3 2005), the Committee on the Rights of the Child, the supervisory body of the International Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), issued its opinion on a possible incompatibility between the CRC and the standards in the free trade agreement being negotiated by Ecuador, Colombia and Peru, and the U.S. The Committee expressed concern about the possibility that the proposed intellectual property standards undermine the State's ability to ensure access to low cost drugs and to fulfill its obligations under international human rights law. The Committee also expressed its fear that free trade treaties may “have an adverse effect on budgetary allocations to social services”. Consequently, the Committee urged Ecuador to “ensure free trade agreements do not have an adverse effect on the rights of the child […] as regards access to low cost drugs, including generic drugs.” It repeated the recommendations issued by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in June 2004 (E/C.12/1/Add.100), which urged Ecuador to “conduct an evaluation of the effects of international trade standards on the right to health of all persons and to make ample use of the flexibility clauses allowed by the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property of the World Trade Organization (WTO), so as to provide access to generic drugs and, more generally, to enable the universal enjoyment of the right to health in Ecuador.”
Keywords: Observaciones Finales del Comité de Derechos del Niño: Ecuador. CRC/C/15/Add.262. Examen de los informes presentados por los Estados bajo el artículo 44 de la Convención Internacional de los Derechos del Niño, Health, Rights
The free trade agreement is still being negotiated. Several civil society organizations have started a campaign requesting the Government of Ecuador to subject the country's execution of the agreement to a referendum (see Centro de Derechos Económicos y Sociales, Ecuador, Te lo contaron? No. 24 Boletín de Información para la Acción, available at http://www.cdes.org.ec/boblioteca/boletines/boletines-tlc/24.pdf and attached).
In the same session, the Committee on the Rights of the Child issued similar recommendations for Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Filipinas. These countries plan to ratify or have already started negotiating or ratifying free trade treaties. It is worth emphasizing that the UN Committees on Human Rights have started to include among their reasons for concern the impact of free trade treaties on economic, social and cultural rights. Although their final recommendations are not binding upon States, they are a valuable tool to be used at the domestic level in wider campaigns opposing the execution of such agreements.