With International Trade Minister Ed Fast in Belgium this week for trade talks with the European Union, British Columbia NDP Leader Adrian Dix is calling on the federal government to reject the EU's proposed changes to Canada's drug patent laws.
"It's very important that provincial health systems and medicare in general are protected against an unnecessary increase in costs," Dix said in an interview. "The costs and consequences are borne by provincial governments and also patients and the sick."
The Canadian Press reported last week that anonymous government and industry sources said Fast was willing to at least partly meet E.U. demands for increased patent protection for brand name drugs as part of negotiations for the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement.
The EU has sought to have patents not start until a drug receives regulatory approval, extend patent protection to 10 years from the current eight, and strengthen legal rights for appeals on patent decisions. The CP said government documents estimated the cost of those changes to Canadians at as much as $2 billion a year.
An earlier report had put the cost to B.C. alone at $250 million a year.
A spokesperson for B.C.'s jobs, tourism and skills training ministry, which is responsible for the international trade file, did not respond to a call by posting time.
Premier Christy Clark has previously said the province would like to be reimubursed if the federal government signs a deal that adds to B.C.'s drug tab.
"They keep talking about compensation," said Dix. "They forget there's only one taxpayer."
Meeting the E.U.'s demands would also add costs for private health insurance plans and individuals, particularly those with chronic illnesses, he said.