FTAs and sustainable development: The example of EFTA and other upcoming challenges

June 7, 2006

On 7 June 2006, the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) and the Berne Declaration co-organized a discussion on “FTAs and sustainable development: The example of EFTA and other upcoming challenges“, at the Maison des Associations, Geneva.

The discussion aimed at addressing concerns raised in relation to ongoing bilateral trade negotiations in Thailand and Indonesia as well as specific issues raised by developing country negotiators, civil society groups, and stakeholders during the CIEL’s Washington DC workshop, “Intellectual this year. These included the need:

  • to identify strategic avenues and opportunities for developing country officials, civil society groups, and other stakeholders to influence the negotiation of intellectual property provisions in the context of free trade agreements: and
  • to assess opportunities created by the various options for implementation to “claw back” policy space, as well as engaging stakeholders in the implementation process to generate public pressure for a balanced approach.

In the first part of the discussion, representatives of civil society organizations from Thailand and Indonesia briefly shared their work and concerns regarding their countries’ negotiation of trade agreements with industrialized countries, particularly in relation to negotiations with the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), formed by Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Iceland. Speakers included Prof. Dr. Jiraporn Limpananont, from the Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand; Dr. Alexander C. Chandra, from the Institute for Global Justice (IGJ), Indonesia; Revrisond Baswir, Director of the Centre for Economic Democracy Studies, Gadjah Mada University, Jakarta, Indonesia; and Witoon Lianchamroon, Director of Biothai (NGO working on agriculture), Thailand.

The Thai and Indonesian representatives gave insights into the challenges their countries are facing with respect to the various models of trade agreements being negotiated with different industrialized countries, particularly in relation to intellectual property and financial services. The representatives also expressed their ideas as to the successful strategies civil society in their countries had used to address some of these challenges issues highlighted in the presentations included:

  • Intellectual property and access to medicines focusing on the Thailand experience in relation to the HIV challenges, Antiretroviral Therapy (ARV) demand and intellectual property protection measures in place;
  • The importance of collaboration initiatives between the various stakeholders, public interest NGOs, academics, farmers and consumer associations, in both developing and developed countries for raising public awareness of the implications TRIPS Plus provisions have on developing countries’ public policy objectives;
  • The concern that the pursuit of bilateral trade agreements by the US, EU and EFTA threatens the regional integration initiatives of the Association of South East Asian Nations; and
  • The negative effects liberalization initiatives in the financial sectors have had on the Indonesian economy;

The more region and country specific discussion was followed by a more general and strategic discussion on upcoming challenges and potential strategies. Experts Ellen ‘t Hoen from Médicins sans Frontières (MSF) and Pedro Roffe from the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD) presented several considerations and suggestions, including:

  • Addressing the challenges developing countries face when negotiating FTAs with developed countries in multilateral fora. For example, discussions at the 2006 World Health Assembly raised the problems posed by FTAs that contain TRIPS Plus provisions;
  • Considering the challenges and opportunities of the implementation phase of FTAs. The discussion focused on the importance on the part of developing countries in being creative when designing national legislation aimed at implementing IP provisions in FTAs. Suggestions included adopting implementation initiatives and processes that are coherent, involving all relevant ministerial departments and stakeholders likely to be impacted by TRIPS Plus provisions.

The meeting finalized with an open discussion, which focused on additional strategies and processes that civil society could utilize to address challenges arising out of the bilateral trade negotiations, and to redress the imbalances that currently exist. Suggestions included: using the WIPO Provisional Committee for the Development Agenda impact assessment mechanisms, and human rights processes. In addition, participants emphasized the importance of continuing initiatives at the national level to further strengthen capacities of negotiators, increase network building, and public awareness activities as well as the importance of lobbying activities in national capitals and at meetings of international organizations.

Please note that the following are available online:

For more information, please contact Marcos Orellana.