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Thailand Unfazed As US Worries Over Copyright Violations

The Thailand Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont, has defended his government's move to allow the introduction of generic versions of three patented// drugs-in spite of US worries over intellectual property rights in the kingdom.

"We still defend what we have done, and we can explain our action to other countries as well the world community," Surayud was quoted.

This Tuesday, Health Minister Mongkol Na Songkhla will be traveling to the United along with the head of the Thai Food and Drugs Administration, in order to sign an agreement with the Clinton Foundation on obtaining cheaper drugs.

Mongkol would again travel to Washington on May 21 to explain Thailand's position to US lawmakers and other government agencies, according to official sources.

In an annual report released this week, the US trade office said it was concerned by "an overall deterioration in the protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights in Thailand."

The United States criticized Thailand on Monday for steps it took to override patents of two HIV/AIDS drugs, but stopped short of threatening action at the World Trade Organization.

The U.S. Trade Representative's office (USTR), said it was elevating Thailand to its "priority watch list" because of an "overall deterioration in the protection and enforcement" of intellectual property rights there. "In late 2006 and early 2007, there were further indications of a weakening of respect for patents, as the Thai Government announced decisions to issue compulsory licenses for several patented pharmaceutical products," the USTR was quoted.

The Doha declaration adopted by WTO members in November 2001 reaffirmed that countries have some flexibility under international trade rules to ensure their populations have access to life-saving medicines.

Those include compulsory licenses requiring drug patent holders to allow others to produce their drugs.

"While the United States acknowledged a country's ability to issue such licenses in accordance with WTO rules, the lack of transparency and due process exhibited in Thailand represents a serious concern," the USTR added.

The reports cite rampant copyright violations on books, DVDs and apparel here in addition to Thailand's generic drug efforts. It calls it "further indications of a weakening of respect for patents."

In protest against the USTR report, around 30 Thai activists protested outside the US embassy on Thursday. The activists accused the US Trade Representative's office of grouping Thailand with copyright offenders such as China, Russia and India in retaliation for the government's decision to allow generic versions of AIDS drugs and heart medication.

Wearing black T-shirts with crossed-out pictures of US President George W. Bush, they unfurled a banner reading: "Evil USA: Stop threatening access to treatment in Thailand."

"This protest is to express our dismay and outrage at the USTR decision in response to Thailand's decision to issue three compulsory licenses," the activists were quoted.

So-called compulsory licenses are allowed under World Trade Organization rules so that countries can temporarily suspend patent protections on medicines to safeguard public health.

Thailand has issued compulsory licenses for AIDS drugs Kaletra and Efavirenz and popular heart disease medicine Plavix. The government plans to import generic versions of the drugs from India, but could also choose to manufacture them itself.

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