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Labour - ACTA remains too vague and will affect generic drugs industry

ACTA could affect generic drug companies as well as personal internet users if not amended and clarified accordingly.

Bianca Caruana
31 January 2012, 12:00am
Labour Party spokesman Michael Farrugia discusses concerns regarding ACTA.

The Anti-Counterfeit Trading Agreement (ACTA) could not only impinge on the rights of personal internet users but also affect the generic pharmaceutical companies in Malta and Europe, Labour MP and spokesperson on consumer rights Michael Farrugia said today.

“ACTA was not negotiated at an inclusive multilateral forum, such as the World Trade Organisation (WTO) or the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO),” Farrugia said. “ACTA is intended to go beyond former agreements and the signed version of the ACTA contains words which are not clear and could be misconstrued to encompass various things,” Farrugia said.

Farrugia said that the fundamental rights of internet users could be affected, especially privacy and personal expression. “The Labour Party and its MEPS have voiced their reservations about the agreement, and voted in favour of a resolution move by European Parliament political groups - except the European People’s Party (EPP) - to amend the current version being signed which is still very vague,” Farrugia said.

Internet Service Providers could be held liable for illegitimate material hosted and data transferred across their service, according to Farrugia.

“ISPs will have to monitor all information going through their system which would mean 'bye-bye' to privacy. It is a dangerous practice and we do not believe rights-holders should be given permission to access personal information,” Farrugia said.

Farrugia said that certain provisions should be clarified because innovation could also be affected, as well as generic pharmaceutical companies who could find themselves in trouble even if original patents for medicines have expired.

“The ACTA could go against the agreements made with the WTO because it would be working outside of the legal frameworks. We already have the TRIPS agreement and the Doha declaration as tools against counterfeit medicines.

“The tools are all there. ACTA is vague and could place generic pharmaceuticals on the counterfeit list. This could be a threat to companies who provide generic pharmaceuticals which are cheaper than but just as effective as their brand-name counterparts,” Farrugia said.

Referring to Finance Minister Tonio Fenech’s claims that the Labour Party had not objected the agreement when presented to the Malta-EU Steering and Action Committee (MEUSAC), in July, Farrugia said: “The version of the ACTA document put forward to MUESAC was not the final version of the document and we could not debate it properly.

Farrugia also said that Fenech had basically “cut and pasted the front page of a document presented by the EU commission” agreeing that ACTA should be put forward.

“There has been a lack of transparency with different versions continuously cropping up since MEUSAC’s meeting on the matter in July. All MEPs within the EU parliament had requested that all changes and progress since the original document should be put down on the table but this was refused,” Farrugia said.

“When the issue was brought forward we had a whole discussion about it but there was no real final document to be discussed since the ACTA was being considered at EU level, not local. MEPs put forward a request that all the different versions of the documents be placed on the table along with the final version of the ACTA.

“Our MEPs were on the ball the whole time, and wanted to know exactly what was going on but all discussions were conducted behind closed doors and not with the MEPs. They were not included in any of the discussions,” Farrugia said.

MaltaToday asked whether the PL disagreed with ACTA as a concept or whether only its terminology should be clarified.

“We are in the same position as the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists & Democrats in the European Parliament. If terms were clarified and all mentioned were protected, from ISPs to personal internet users to generic drug companies, then it could be further considered,” Farrugia said.

Asked whether he believes that file sharing should be decriminalised Farrugia said: “The internet serves many purposes. ISPs are being asked to delve into everyone’s information and be held responsible for any illegal content. It is a dangerous situation because if anyone is harmed personally by any content on the internet which was allowed by an ISP, individuals will be given the facility to go directly to the ISP for information instead of going through the courts meaning data protection would no longer be applicable.”