Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to stand in this place and speak to private member's Bill C-398. At the outset I would like to thank our parliamentary secretary, the member for Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont, for his longstanding work within the autism community. We understand his passion for doing the right thing in the case of autism, and we also know his compassion not just for the underprivileged and those in need here in Canada but also around the world. I want to thank him for his involvement in this debate.
Our government is committed to fighting public health challenges in the developing world and we support the underlying humanitarian objectives of Canada's access to medicines regime. We are of the view and accept that the bill is well-intentioned. We believe that those who drafted the bill have tried to fix a worthy cause, but make no mistake, the bill fails and falls far short. These amendments will not deliver on the stated objectives listed. They will not deliver more affordable medicines to the developing world and will not save lives.
This is the type of bill that I have often thought is an ideal one for the opposition. It is a bill by which the opposition members can find and bring forward a cause with passion, but when we study it and see what it will accomplish, it will end up hurting the cause.
There has never been a government in Canada that has implemented this type of bill, for very good reason. It can cause great harm and in the long run let people down. I am disappointed to say that Bill C-398 will not enable us to deliver more medicines to those who need them in the developing world. Instead, it may be a hindrance.
Even if the bill passes, Canada would not be an affordable source of medicines for the developing world. We will simply not be able to compete on price with emerging markets, as our parliamentary secretary pointed out. In fact, according to data from the World Health Organization, India is the largest supplier of antiretrovirals to developing countries. It supplies an estimated 80% of donor funded antiretrovirals to the developing world.
Bill C-398 will not address any of these realities of the lower costs in emerging markets. Developing countries will continue to choose available lower cost alternatives, and while Canada boasts a world-class generic pharmaceutical industry with high manufacturing standards and an acknowledged commitment to supporting access to medicines initiatives in the developing world, its strength is not to compete on price with countries such as India, South Africa and China.
This is particularly the case for the supply of low cost HIV-AIDS products. Generic manufacturers in the countries mentioned are able to price their products for less on average than any developed country can. That includes us in Canada. The major international procurement efforts for the developing world are focused almost exclusively on those emerging markets mentioned by our parliamentary secretary.
The Canadian generic pharmaceutical industry stated in its testimony before the House of Commons standing committee in 2007 that it had neither the ability nor the inclination to become “the generic breadbasket to the developing world”. The bill does not change that. The Canadian access to medicines regime is still available to countries that need it. Canada is the only country to have used this tool to export medicines successfully.
Prior to Canada using the regime to import drugs in 2007, there is the example of Rwanda that my colleague pointed out, which was already procuring generic HIV drugs, primarily from India, at a steadily declining price. Today Rwanda does not need Canada's access to medicines regime for those drugs. Canada can be involved in many other ways. India is now supplying Rwanda with the same product produced by Apotex under Canada's access to medicines regime at a much lower price than we would provide.
That is not to say that Canada no longer has a role to play in Rwanda. Our government continues to be a significant contributor to the global fund, one of the key development partners supporting the HIV-AIDS response in Rwanda. The work of the global fund and other funding mechanisms have generated significant improvements to the AIDS response in Rwanda. According to recent World Health Organization guidelines, Rwanda has one of the highest rates of antiretroviral coverage, reaching almost 90% in 2010 from 13% in 2004. HIV prevalence is now less than 3% in the general population of Rwanda. That is a remarkable success story.
The conclusion to be drawn from the Rwandan scenario is that, when there is a need for them, the tools we have work. Canada's access to medicines regime did its part to help the Rwandan people, as did Canadian and partner funds put towards purchasing generic drugs from countries with competitive pricing. While the government's commitment to addressing public health problems in the developing world is unwavering, we have significant concerns that Bill C-398 would result in the elimination of many elements of the regime that hold it in balance.
The approach proposed in Bill C-398, the so-called “one-licence” solution, would hinder innovation and research in Canada. In addition, many of the bill's proposed changes would violate our international trade obligations. The approach suggested by the bill would allow the Commissioner of Patents to grant an export licence without first verifying whether the importing country has made the necessary notification. In fact, a licence would not only be issued without knowing where the product will be shipped and the identity of the buyers, but also with no indication of the amount being purchased. This would cause serious transparency problems and would increase the potential for the diversion of drugs away from the people who need them the most.
The bill would also remove protections that provide incentives for research into new and innovative drugs and medical devices. This research benefits all Canadians by improving our knowledge, generating research infrastructure and creating more highly paid skilled jobs in Canada. It leads to innovations that will help people live longer, healthier and more productive lives. It is also key to our international humanitarian efforts as we strive to develop medicines that will benefit those in need.
Canada's access to medicines regime and regimes like it are only one tool in the global box. When evaluating the system, it makes much more sense to look at results, namely, whether the global supply of lower-cost medicines has increased based on Canada's leadership.
It has been said before, but I would like to remind the House of some of the remarkable statistics that show how Canada's support for global initiatives has made a difference in the treatment of public health problems in the developing world. Canadian taxpayers have provided $540 million to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria in 2011-12. Through this fund, 3.6 million people living with HIV-AIDS currently receive antiretroviral treatment.
It is a worthy cause with the right intentions without a doubt. Those who support this have a passion to see people helped. However, we need to do it in a way that is sustainable and productive, a way that keeps our treaties with those countries over the long term and would not push us to the periphery.