Mr. Speaker, unlike the hon. member across the way, I am supporting Bill C-393, which aims to correct the major issues with Canada's Access to Medicines Regime, or CAMR.
It is true that the regime is not currently operating, but reforms could change that. CAMR has provided only one drug to one country since it was created by Parliament more than six years ago. We cannot expect the regime to be used again if it is not effectively reformed.
Doctors Without Borders told the committee that it had tried many times to use the regime to get drugs to patients, but that it had given up because of pointless hurdles in the legislation. Developing countries have said that CAMR is not flexible enough, that it contains too many restrictions and that it is not compatible with their procurement processes. Only one Canadian generic drug manufacturer used the regime, and it then said that it would not use the complex process again. But it is important to note that the manufacturer publicly committed to using the regime again if it were simplified, for example, to export a long-awaited pediatric formulation of an anti-AIDS drug that is not currently available from any other source.
Canadians want Parliament to take action to fix CAMR. According to a national poll, 80% of Canadians support reforming Canada's Access to Medicines Regime to make it more workable and to help developing countries get access to more affordable life-saving medicine. So do dozens of prominent Canadians, including our former prime minister whose government enacted CAMR, and many leading Canadian organizations, including all those that recently issued an open letter on World AIDS Day to our colleagues in the House of Commons.
We need to make sure that competition makes these drugs affordable. This is critical for developing countries and has already been recognized by Canada and all the other member countries of the World Trade Organization, the WTO. The ability to procure lower-cost generic versions of expensive patented drugs is the most important factor in making it possible to treat and save the lives of 5 million HIV-positive people in low- and middle-income countries. Another 10 million people living with HIV also need these drugs. There is an urgent need for competition in order to obtain and increase access to affordable generic drugs, and this need will continue in developing countries.
At the core of Bill C-393 was, and should be, a proposal to streamline CAMR with a simplified one licence solution. This approach would eliminate the regime's current requirement for separate negotiations with patent-holding pharmaceutical companies for individual licences for each purchasing country and each order of medicines. It would also remove the requirement to determine and disclose in advance of even being able to apply for a licence to export to a single recipient country and a fixed maximum quantity of medicines. These unnecessary requirements have proven to be the major stumbling blocks to the use of CAMR.
Independent legal experts have repeatedly confirmed that the reforms in Bill C-393, including the one-licence solution, are compliant with Canada's obligations as a member of the WTO, unlike what my colleague across the floor said. This includes a world-renowned expert who appeared before the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology, as well as experts brought together last year by the United Nations Development Program in order to examine Bill C-393 in relation to Canada's WTO obligations.
The proposed reforms in Bill C-393 offer value for money and its proposed changes to CAMR would cost taxpayers nothing. In fact, the one licence solution in Bill C-393 would make Canadian foreign aid more effective because limited resources could purchase more medicines and would also free up scarce resources to invest in making health systems stronger.
Scaling up access to treatment also means greater opportunities for producing and distributing good quality, Canadian made generic medicines, meaning more business and more jobs in addressing oppressing global health needs.
CAMR is not working rapidly and easily precisely because it requires one specific country and a fixed quantity of medicines to be determined and disclosed in advance before seeking a licence is even possible. It took years to get to the point of getting even one licence issued because of this. Claiming that it only took 68 days for the process to work is misleading because it ignores the entire process that was and is required. The one licence solution would streamline the process so that it can work.
Bill C-393 does not weaken measures aimed at ensuring the delivery of quality medicines to patients. The amendment to restore the one-licence solution will ensure that all medicines exported under the regime would still be reviewed by Health Canada. Furthermore, all of the regime's existing safeguards against diversion of medicines would remain unchanged.
Streamlining CAMR does not jeopardize pharmaceutical research and development, including those carried out in Canada. CAMR authorizes exports of generic versions of patented medicines to certain eligible countries only. These countries were already agreed upon by Canada and all WTO members in 2003 and are already reflected in the current CAMR, as created unanimously by Parliament in 2004. These countries represent a small portion of total global pharmaceutical sales and the profits of brand name pharmaceutical companies. Furthermore, the brand name drug companies are entitled to receive royalties on sales of generic medicines supplied to these countries under CAMR.
As for the amendment to include a sunset clause, there is no valid reason to include such a clause, which would automatically kill the crucial improvements needed for the CAMR after they have been in effect for just a few years. On the one hand, the need for more affordable medicines in developing countries could unfortunately remain a reality for many more years to come. On the other hand, it is no secret that the regime is flawed and, as a result, there is almost zero chance that it will ever be used again unless it is simplified.
So why would Parliament bother making improvements to the regime to make it more effective, only to turn around and put an expiry date on those improvements through a sunset clause, to return to the current system, which has proven untenable?
I support Bill C-393, An Act to amend the Patent Act (drugs for international humanitarian purposes) and to make a consequential amendment to another Act, and I invite my hon. colleagues to also vote to support it.