Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Labour gives no guarantees on Pharmac

One of the concerns with a US-NZ FTA is that the US will demand that we give up Pharmac, the pharmaceutical buying agency which uses our bulk-buying power to screw better deals out of multinational drug companies. So yesterday in Question Time, the Greens asked the government to give a simple guarantee that they would not let this happen:

Dr Russel Norman: Will the Minister publicly guarantee that he will not sign any trade deal with the United States that undermines Pharmac’s role as a monopoly purchaser of pharmaceuticals on behalf of all New Zealanders—yes or no?

Hon ANNETTE KING: As with all our free-trade agreements, in order for New Zealand to be able to agree to any outcome the agreement overall must be able to pass the test of being in our national interest. Those issues will be discussed and we will look at our national interest.

Given the simplicity of the question, this obfuscation can only be taken as a refusal. Labour - the chief party of the centre-left - will make no commitment to ensure the cheap drugs upon which our health system (and our health) relies.

The real worry here is that FTA negotiations are conducted in secret, and the results presented to us as a fait accompli, which Parliament must then vote for. So, we won't know whether or not we've been sold out until it is too late. Such secrecy is simply unacceptable in a democracy. Unless the negotiations are conducted completely in the open, so that the public can exercise full democratic oversight over the entire process and prevent our government from selling us out, we should not accept the outcome.