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MEPs to vote on controversial EU/Israel pharma trade deal

World News | October 22, 2012


Lynne Taylor

MEPs to vote on controversial EU/Israel pharma trade deal

The European Parliament is due to vote on October 23 on a new accord which seeks to remove trade barriers between Israel and European Union (EU) member states for industrial products, starting with pharmaceuticals.

Supporters of the deal - the Protocol on Conformity Assessment and Acceptance of Industrial Products (ACAA) - say it will provide patients in the EU with access to innovative, life-saving drugs at lower cost and boost EU drugmakers' exports to Israel.

Israel, despite its small size, is "at the forefront of major medical innovations," says Marina Yannakoudakis, Conservative Member of the European Parliament (MEP) for London and her party's spokesman on health in the European Parliament. For example, by using Teva's generic version of Pfizer's Lipitor (atorvastatin), the world's best-selling drug, the costs to healthcare systems for blood pressure medication would be reduced by 92%, she says, writing recently in The Jewish Chronicle.

A vote in favour of the ACAA would also mean that European drugmakers would be able to purchase active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) from Israeli companies with no need for additional testing in Europe. "This will both reduce the costs of importing medicines as well as lowering manufacturing costs for European drugs companies," Ms Yannakoudakis writes.

However, the European Coordination of Committees and Associations for Palestine (ECCP) is urging MEPs to vote against the deal at their plenary session in Strasbourg because, it says, it "would reward Israel for its continued violations of international law."

The ECCP points out that the EU and its member states would be in contravention of their obligations under international law if they were to allow products manufactured in Israeli settlements in Palestine to be traded in European markets.

"Such trade, which supports the economic viability of existing settlements, as it is not intended for the primary benefit of the local Palestinian population, contravenes EU's obligation to comply with the duty of non-recognition and is therefore illegal," says the ECCP.

The EU and its member states would also be contravening their international obligations if they were to expand the scope and implementation of the EU-Israel agreements to illegal settlements, the group adds, noting that the debate surrounding the ACAA "illustrates this problem."

In September, opponents of the protocol had urged the European Parliament's Committee on International Trade to block it, and an opinion presented to the panel by the Parliament's Committee on Foreign Affairs had warned of "serious concerns about the political context of this agreement."

However, the bid to block the deal failed, on a narrow vote, and the ECCP says it expects that October 23's vote by the full Parliament will also be close.

Both the European Parliamentary Labour Party (EPLP) and the Socialists and Democrats group (S&D) have said that they will vote against the protocol. Earlier this summer, MEP David Martin, Labour's European spokesman for international trade, said that it would be "particularly inappropriate to allow easier access to the EU market for Israeli pharmaceutical products when Palestinians struggle for medical supplies under the Israeli-imposed blockade."

It was also "vital that products from the occupied territories do not enter the EU market under this agreement," he added.

However, Tal Ofer, a UK member of the European Jewish Parliament, has expressed his disappointment at the EPLP and S&D decision to vote against the deal.

"The ACCA should only be judged by whether the Israeli pharmaceutical industry is modern and innovative (which it is of course) and if it can benefit the European citizens by bringing access to cheap pharmaceutical products," he wrote recently in The Algemeiner. 

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