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Awkward! Federal stats confirm $2-billion extra for drugs under Canada-EU trade deal

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Well this is awkward. After claiming unambiguously in its pro-CETA propaganda that, “It is a myth that a Canada-EU free trade agreement would increase drug and health care costs,” the Harper government is avoiding comment on a federal study, exposed this week, that suggests the exact opposite. The news comes as federal and provincial negotiators begin a 13th round of free trade and investment negotiations today and through October 26 in Brussels.

“Confidential federal research on free-trade talks with Europe shows that giving the European Union just one part of what it wants on drug patents would cost Canadians up to $2 billion a year,” reported Canadian Press today. The study, which was never made public, “found that based on past history of approval patterns, the EU proposal would add an average life of 2.66 years to a typical drug patent, and increase Canadian drug costs by between $795 million and $1.95 billion annually.”

In other words, the federal government more or less confirmed an earlier study, commissioned by Canada’s generic drug industry association, suggesting CETA would add billions to the cost of drug plans across the country. International Trade Minister Ed Fast’s response was robotic and unhelpful.

“Our government has always sought to strike a balance between promoting innovation and job creation and ensuring that Canadians continue to have access to the affordable drugs they need,” said Fast’s spokesperson, Adam Taylor. “Our government will only sign an agreement if it is in the best interests of Canadians.”

Though Canada and the EU have not concluded or apparently approached the drug-related or other intellectual property rights issues in CETA (besides geographical indications), the Harper government is expected to give Big Pharma at least part of what it’s asking for in terms of added monopoly protections.

So “balanced” does not mean the same thing for Harper as it does for the rest of us. It probably is the word Minister Fast (or his assistant, or Harper) will use to describe any trade deal, no matter how unbalanced or harmful to Canada’s health care system. It might not cut the mustard. A poll we commissioned last month showed that 69% of Canadians would reject a Canada-EU trade deal that extended patents on brand name drugs.

Also coming away from this with egg on face is Jason Langrish, executive director of the Canada-Europe Roundtable for Business (CERT), whose op-ed in the Vancouver Sun today criticizes the integrity of the generic association study, and suggests B.C. NDP leader Adrian Dix is “misguided” for questioning the Canada-EU trade deal.

CERT represents Canada’s brand name drug lobby, Rx&D, as well as European firm GlaxoSmithKline. Two days ago, in response to a similar op-ed from Langrish in the Financial Post, one of the generic association study’s authors, Aidan Hollis, told Ipolitics.ca that “I think it’s fair to say he (Langrish) didn’t read the article.”

For more on the drug cost issue in CETA, and the other ways the Harper government is deceiving Canadians about the benefits and risks of this Canada-EU trade deal, see our report, The CETA Deception.

To send a letter to the Prime Minister demanding that he not make concessions to Big Pharma that will raise drug costs in Canada, use the Canadian Health Coalition action alert here.

Stuart Trew is the trade campaigner for the Council of Canadians.

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