The Role of the EU Behind Uganda's New Anti-Counterfeiting Bill

Dan Rosenholtz
April 6, 2010

Uganda’s Counterfeit Goods Bill has been attacked by critics as limiting access to life-saving medicines since its introduction into the Ugandan Parliament.  Since then, health advocates have wondered why Uganda would adopt a set of IP provisions stricter that the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Agreement (TRIPS), when Uganda is under no current TRIPS obligations. 
 
Simon Lokodo, Uganda’s state minister for industry, admitted in a recent interview that the process of formulating the bill has been funded by the EU.  "We get support from the European Union. With the support we get from them we have managed to employ someone who has helped us to dig into the matter and work with other partners to develop the bill which is before cabinet now," he said.  The financing for the bill was part of an effort to help Uganda implement its Economic Partnership Agreement with the EU. 
 
Harvey Rouse, head of the political and trade section of the EU delegation to Uganda, confirmed that technical assistance for the development of an anticounterfeiting law was part of a five million euro financing agreement with Uganda in July 2009.  When asked about the obstacles to affordable generics medicines that the Counterfeit Goods Bill is likely to cause, Alex Nakajjo, trade operations officer at the EU delegation in Kampala, asserted that the bill "targets only people who infringe on protected intellectual property rights … The EU does not support counterfeits trade and counterfeits should not … be confused with generic drugs.”
 
Notably, neither official asserted what some advocates of anti-counterfeit legislation in the East African Community assert, such as the Kenyan Association of Manufacturers, that anti-counterfeit laws are intended to improve drug quality by cutting sub-standard medicines out of the market.  The fact that the EU-Uganda finance agreement that funded the Counterfeit Goods Bill is handled by trade officials (not public health officials) undercuts the position that the bill’s primary concern is drug quality.
 
The EU’s drive for anti-counterfeit legislation in East Africa goes further back than the financing agreement. In the fall of 2008, the EU funded a Ugandan trade ministry conference through a program for the "technical support for the economic partnership agreement finalization.” At this conference the first version of the Counterfeit Goods Bill was discussed in a presentation by Gerald Ssendaula, Private Sector Foundation Uganda (PSFU) chairperson, and former Ugandan finance minister.  The PSFU, which represents 81 business associations and public sector agencies, has been one of the primary organizations in Uganda pushing for national and regional anti-counterfeit policies.
 
It appears that without the support of he European Union, there would be no Counterfeit Goods Bill in the Ugandan Parliament.  This raises the question: how involved has the EU been in supporting anti-counterfeit laws elsewhere in the East African Community?

For more information, please see Michael, Wambi.  “EU Supports Law Threatening Access to Medicines.” Inter Press News Service Agency. March 15, 2010. http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=50661

 

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