Yesterday I mentioned Tim Dunlop’s post on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme aspects of the Free Trade Agreement as telling us everything we need to know on the subject. But Chris Sheil’s post is even better. What’s more, most of the meaty detail and analysis of the pros and cons is in the comment box, and by a variety of contributors. I found IP expert Peter Drahos’s submission (linked by Rex Ringschott) especially helpful in forming my own views on this very complex subject.
I’ve been too busy until now to absorb the detail, but having done so (at least on the PBS aspect) I’ve belatedly turned into a strong opponent of the FTA. Too late now by the look of it. With a bit of luck Howard will be a dickhead and continue refusing Latham’s anti-evergreening proposal, which is arguably dubious in a policy sense but undoubtedly politically smart.
I doubt it though. Howard is the ultimate pragmatist, and when the AMA, local drug companies and all State and Territory leaders are calling on him to cave in, there isn’t much doubt he’ll beat a strategic retreat in an attempt to avoid allowing the political momentum to swing towards Latham.
As others have observed, it’s all about politics at this stage, and very little to do with good policy. Drahos makes a pretty persuasive case for the proposition that the FTA will halve the price differential Australia currently enjoys in drug prices as a result of the PBS over the next five years or so (not to mention dividing Cairns group countries and so reducing prospects of their using IP issues as a bargaining chip in achieving multilateral freeing up of agricultural trade). Latham’s amendment might mitigate that damage at the margin, but that’s about all. But in purely electoral terms it might even have snatched victory from the jaws of impending defeat. Latham has lots of weak points, but his strong one is that he’s a great lateral thinker.
As John Quiggin observed, the blogosphere discussion and analysis of this issue (especially by comment box contributors) makes the mainstream media coverage look as pathetic and superficial as it really is. You should all be proud of yourselves for being part of the maturing realisation of this extraordinary democratic medium.