The European Parliament has rejected the international Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) put before it by the European Commission, which means that it cannot become law in the European Union (EU).

The vote, on July 4, represented the first time that Members of the European Parliament (MEP) have exercised their power to reject an international trade agreement, and 478 of them did so, with 39 voting for it and 165 abstaining.

Parliament's striking down of the agreement  was welcomed by international aid agency Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), which said that ACTA could have limited access to quality generic medicines. 

"The way it was written, ACTA would have given an unfair advantage to patented medicines and restricted access to affordable generic medicines, to the detriment of patients and treatment providers alike," said Aziz ur Rehman, intellectual property adviser for the MSF Access Campaign. 

MSF emphasises that it strongly supports efforts to ensure that generic medicines meet accepted international standards. However, it also says that ACTA's over-broad definition of "counterfeiting" and its excessive enforcement provisions left too much room for error. Legitimately-produced generic drugs could have been seized and detained, hindering access for people who rely on these medicines to survive, says the agency.

Moreover, the agreement's stringent provisions would have targeted third parties, including treatment providers such as MSF, by exposing them to the risk of punitive action in trademarked and patient infringement allegations, it points out.

The vote was also welcomed by David Martin, Scotland's senior MEP and author of the ACTA report to the Parliament's International Trade Committee, which had found the agreement to be too vague and open to misinterpretation, and that it could therefore jeopardise citizens' liberties. 

"ACTA was wrong from the start. It was negotiated in secret, and tries to put together incomparable elements in the same treaty," said Mr Martin, who welcomed the Parliament's first-ever vote to reject an international trade deal as "a historic day in terms of European politics."

"The Commission and the Council will now be aware that they cannot expect blind support from the Parliament, which represents and defends citizens' rights. This vote represents true democracy in action and the coming of age of the European Parliament," he said.

Following the vote, MSF says that the European Commission should now review other "similarly harmful" intellectual property provisions being pursued in other agreements, including free trade negotiations such as the agreement currently being negotiated with India, one of the world's biggest exporters of generic medicines.

Mr ur Rehman calls on EU Trade Commissioner Karel de Gucht to "take heed - the vote on ACTA has shown that these harmful policies are unacceptable to European parliamentarians and some EU member states."

"The Commission should rethink its approach on intellectual property enforcement measures in free trade and other agreements," he said.

"We need to learn from this sorry mess," added Mr Martin. 'We need to listen to the people, we need to start again from scratch. We want to fight counterfeiting and we are willing to start working as soon as possible on a good solution, one our voters are comfortable with," he said.