Who do you think should give nuts-and-bolts advice to help craft trade agreements that can cut Third World AIDS sufferers’ ability to buy lifesaving generic medicines? a) Pharmaceutical corporations, b) other large corporations, or c) public health advocates, including religious groups.
Trick question! There are no public health advocates on the government-organized group that advises U.S. trade negotiators on medicines – just folks from Pfizer, Monsanto, and other corporate interests (plus one environmental group). That setup – along with the “fast track” system, whereby the executive branch negotiates bad agreements and Congress is limited to a yes-or-no vote on them – are two reasons why recent U.S. trade agreements like CAFTA carve out new entitlements for Big Pharma at the expense of sick people in desperately poor countries. And the health of the poor is just one of the ways in which CAFTA, and similar not-yet-approved pacts with Colombia and other countries, are bad products of a bad process.
Some in Congress are starting to speak out about the problem, but a number of congressional leaders, including Sen. Max Baucus, seem to be suggesting that the soon-to-expire “fast track” can be renewed, and that the disastrous course of the past few years can keep rolling on, with only a few changes.
You can tell Congress that this just isn’t good enough. As a first step, pick up the phone TODAY and tell your representatives about Tuesday’s “Rethinking U.S. Trade Policy for the Common Good,” a briefing put together by an interfaith coalition that cares about the well-being of AIDS sufferers, the environment, and ordinary people in the U.S. and abroad.
(And stay tuned for Sojourners’ May issue on trade justice to learn more about what you can do to help build a better world!)
Elizabeth Palmberg is an Assistant Editor for Sojourners magazine.