Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to Bill C-398, An Act to amend the Patent Act (drugs for international humanitarian purposes), which aims to modify certain fundamental aspects of Canada's access to medicines regime.
I join many members of the House in viewing the regime as a key component of Canada's long-term, multi-faceted approach to addressing the serious public health problems that affect many low and middle-income countries. However, this is only one weapon in the arsenal Canada has put together to fight disease, to provide access to medicines and to improve health conditions in the developing world.
In addition to our access to medicines regime, Canada makes significant contributions to global mechanisms for the procurement of low-cost drugs to respond to the needs of the developing world. Canada continues to provide leadership in the global fight against diseases such as AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. Canadians are proud to have invested more per capita than any other country, according to the global fund.
Our comprehensive approach combines prevention of the spread of disease in co-operation with international partners to increase the impact of our funding and lower delivery costs; leadership, through initiatives such as the Muskoka initiative, to improve the health of children and mothers; and innovation to provide the right climate for the development of new medicines and treatments. Our strong track record of support also includes being a founding donor to the global drug facility, being the single largest donor of first-line tuberculosis drugs and working with the Gates Foundation to advance the HIV vaccine.
We embrace the bill's laudable objectives of improving public health in the developing world. However, it would not accomplish this goal.
Independent experts have testified that it would not benefit those in need. It cannot change the fact that there is a demand for lower-cost generic drugs from emerging markets. For instance, India produces 80% of the antivirals funded by countries such as Canada for the developing world. The bill would eliminate many of the checks and balances that were built into the current regime to prevent misuse, which could harm researchers who have invested their energy and know-how into developing new life-saving drugs. The approach suggested in the bill would hold back continued pharmaceutical investment here in Canada and reduce the type of new and innovative therapies being brought to the Canadian market.
Finally, many of the bill's proposed changes are not in keeping with the spirit of the World Trade Organization decision on which Canada's access to medicines regime is based. This decision was designed to provide access to countries facing health emergencies but lacking the means of acquiring needed medicines. The intention of the decision was to remove patents viewed as a barrier to the supply of drugs needed to address public health issues in developing nations. The decision brought together divergent stakeholder views to come up with the appropriate response to public health issues in the developing world, while at the same time respecting intellectual property protections. It was viewed as just one part of the broader international strategy to combat diseases that impact the developing world, a strategy to which Canada has been a key contributor.
In the end, the decision achieved the unanimous support of all members of the World Trade Organization. The World Trade Organization decision ensures that patent rules do not preclude the manufacturing and exporting of cheaper generic copies of patented medicines to the developing countries facing public health emergencies. The international consensus was that it was important to have safeguards to guarantee that the system would only be used for humanitarian purposes and would not be used and diverted for unintended purposes.
Canada's access to medicines regime incorporated all the key elements required by the World Trade Organization decision. It provides a framework for countries to access less expensive generic versions of patented drugs. It also respects Canada's domestic intellectual property framework.
Why is a stable and predictable international intellectual property regime important in Canada?
Intellectual property protection provides incentives for companies to invest in research and development into new and innovative drugs and medical devices. This research and development benefits all Canadians by improving our knowledge, generating research infrastructure, creating more highly paid, skilled jobs in Canada and leading to innovations that will help people live longer, healthier and more productive lives.
The protection and promotion of patents and innovation in the domestic pharmaceutical sector is also key in achieving this government's international humanitarian objectives. The generic industry relies on its brand name competitors to innovate in order to have the products to copy and to sell here in Canada and abroad.
Bill C-398 would interfere with the balanced approach of Canada's access to medical regime and make Canada a less stable, less reliable and less welcoming place for those people who want to invest and innovate.
There are clear reasons to believe that the proposed amendments would be inconsistent with Canada's trade obligations and harm our relationship of trust with our international trading and research partners.
The provisions of the Canadian access to medicines regime were carefully considered, designed and implemented to comply with the World Trade Organization rules. The intention of these rules was to address serious health issues in low and middle-income countries and not to create a system of exporting an unlimited amount of medicines for any reason without the proper checks. These rules require that countries have to notify the World Trade Organization of their intention to use the system. Bill C-398 would remove this requirement and, along with other proposed changes, would alter the intended purpose of the regime. It would also remove the mandatory safety reviews by Health Canada that are currently required.
Canada's approach has a proven track record of improving access to treatment and health care delivery. Together, the global efforts that Canada supports are producing significant results. The supply of lower cost medicines has increased as has their ability to those in need. I will give one example. According to the World Health Organization, nearly eight million people living with HIV in low and middle-income countries are now receiving HIV antiviral treatment.
Our government continues to support an access to medicine regime with the proper checks and balances, that respects our international obligations and serves as one essential part of a comprehensive approach to improving health and fighting diseases in developing countries.
For those reasons, I urge all members of the House not to support Bill C-398.