Obama Administration Trying To Move Away From Allowing Countries To Ignore Patents To Save Lives

from the sickening dept

Well here's another depressing one. For about a decade, there's been something known as the Doha Declaration, under the World Trade Organization (WTO), which effectively said that since public health and "access to medicines for all" was important, countries could have some "flexibility" in dealing with patented medication. In practice, this has meant that in order to deal with health issues, countries can ignore patents when necessary to make sure there is more medicine and that the medicine is reasonably priced. This is good for public health.

Of course, the pharmaceutical companies hate it.

KEI is tracking how the Obama Administration has been quietly backing away from the Doha Declaration and limiting the types of diseases that can be covered under Doha. Even though Doha is pretty clear that it can cover any kind of medicine in the interest of public health, a recent draft text for new agreements clearly (but quietly) tries to make sure that "Non-Communicable Diseases" (NCDs) are not considered to be covered by Doha. In other words, if you're talking about cancer, diabetes or heart disease... countries won't be able to use Doha to provide cheap and necessary drugs to people.

There's apparently a negotiation going on about an agreement on NCDs which, not surprisingly, has been driven by people representing the pharmaceutical industry. In one particularly egregious situation, according to the KEI report, a group representing the pharma industry was "grouped as civil society" at one of the meetings. Yes, for the purposes of one of the meetings, pharma lobbyists were labeled as a consumer interest group.

The end result is that, as it stands right now, the draft text around NCDs does not mention the Doha Declaration any more. This may not seem like a big deal, in that it still mentions "flexibilities," but trying to carve out what is and what is not covered by Doha clearly appears to be a means of ratcheting back the ability of countries to do the right thing in protecting public health:
By seeking to eliminate any references to the Doha Declaration, the U.S. appears to be asserting that the "access to medicine for all" provisions in the Doha Declaration do not apply to drugs for cancer and other non-communicable diseases.

[....]

Why is this controversy important? The US has conceded that compulsory licenses can be used for NCDs, an issue of no controversy legally, but politically sensitive. However, by removing the reference to the Doha Declaration, and maintaining the political position that the Doha Declaration does not apply to NCDs, the White House seeks to eliminate the "access to medicine for all" standard, and to raise doubts about the application of other elements of the Doha Declaration, including paragraphs 5, 6 and 7 to NCDs, if not legally, at least politically.
It's tough not to be cynical about this kind of stuff. But I'm having trouble seeing this as anything other than doing a favor for the pharma industry.

There was some hope that the administration might clarify its position and answer some questions related to this in a USTR paper that was recently released, but the actual release turned out to be nearly totally devoid of substance, angering plenty of consumer groups concerned about access to medicine. Even worse, the paper appears to suggest that greater patent protection may make more sense. The summary from Tido von Schoen-Angerer makes all this clear:
The leaked papers reveal a number of U.S. objectives: to make it impossible to challenge a patent before it is granted; to lower the bar required to get a patent (so that even drugs that are merely new forms of existing medicines, and don't show a therapeutic improvement, can be protected by monopolies); and to push for new forms of intellectual property enforcement that give customs officials excessive powers to impound generic medicines suspected of breaching IP.

And there's more.

The U.S. will also reportedly introduce measures to make it harder and more expensive for generic drugs to get regulatory approval, and to lengthen patent monopolies for pharmaceutical firms so that they keep generics out and prop up drug prices for longer. All of these measures are known to hit the availability of affordable medicines in developing countries hard.
The really amazing thing is how incredibly short-sighted this is. Even if you wanted to argue that it's somehow "good for the economy" to artificially prop up pharma companies with longer and stronger patents, if it comes at the expense of public health, that's not going to help the economy at all. A healthy population is a consuming population. Letting people die around the world is not good for the economy.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Skeptical Cynic (profile), Sep 20th, 2011 @ 1:25pm

    Follow the money

    Pharma, labor unions. Here is a minor list of those that were exempted from the Obamacare law.

    http://cciio.cms.gov/resources/files/alw_hra_05132011.pdf

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
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    fogbugzd (profile), Sep 20th, 2011 @ 2:14pm

    Look at the picture of Obama signing the patent "reform" bill. He was surrounded by big pharma reps and their Congressional lapdogs with a few folk from the chemical industry thrown in to provide some variety.

     

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  3.  
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    A Guy (profile), Sep 20th, 2011 @ 2:14pm

    Well, you know what this means...

    Poor countries will have even less reason to care about these agreements. I doubt it will even make a difference most places.

    If the citizens of these countries have the technical ability and economic/political motivation, I fully expect them to give us the middle finger and do it anyway, as they should.

     

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  4.  
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    DandonTRJ (profile), Sep 20th, 2011 @ 2:16pm

    Unsurprising, given how much the US didn't want to admit Doha was necessary in the first place.

     

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  5.  
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    Lord Binky, Sep 20th, 2011 @ 2:26pm

    On the other hand....

    "A healthy population is a consuming population. Letting people die around the world is not good for the economy."

    On the other hand... If your population is healthy while the rest of the people around the world die it is good for the economy.

    Erm... the grass is always greener? no.. Uh...whatever.

     

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  6.  
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    S, Sep 20th, 2011 @ 2:40pm

    "Change" is an important component of the phrase, "Change for the worse."

     

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  7.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 20th, 2011 @ 2:52pm

    Add asthma to the list.

    The price of preventative inhalers without insurance is outrageous and disgusting.

     

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  8.  
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    mikey4001 (profile), Sep 20th, 2011 @ 2:53pm

    Letting people die around the world is not good for the economy.

    Actually, fewer living people means lower unemployment, less drain on resources, and a greater abundance of food. Fewer workers means higher wages for labor and thus an improved standard of living, as well as an increase in tax revenue. This leads to a sharp decrease in the prosperity gap between rich and poor nations, ultimately resulting in the return of working-class jobs to the good old USA. It's really a win/win for everyone. Unless, of course, you have a soul or a conscience, or whatever. Which, fortunately, no one does.

     

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  9.  
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    Grae (profile), Sep 20th, 2011 @ 3:02pm

    Closer to home is the fact that this will contribute to the seemingly endless rise of healthcare costs in the US. It's really off base from all of Obama's promises on healthcare reform when he was running for President.

    Not shocking, just disappointing.

     

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  10.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 20th, 2011 @ 3:05pm

    This is just payback for when Big Pharma got on board the Obama Care wagon, crony capitalism at it's best.

     

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  11.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 20th, 2011 @ 3:09pm

    Re:

    How else do you expect Obama to acquire campaign contributions? He needs to get elected, right?

    and what about after he's elected? He needs to have some nice friends in high places that can help advance his future career.

     

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  12.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 20th, 2011 @ 3:09pm

    The underlying problem is that not even the American government believes in Americans to innovate and be able to compete in a global market.

    The government is stuck with the "plan" to dominate IP as a form to keep it relevant in the world, the thing is nobody, not even Americans should respect IP if they want to be able to function.

     

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  13.  
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    Paul (profile), Sep 20th, 2011 @ 3:12pm

    What about the costs to the Government? To the People? To the Economy?

    This is less understandable when you realize that the government is the biggest single customer of the Pharma industry via Medicare, Medicaid, CHIP, etc.

    This is most definitely a Job Killer and Bad for the budget and bad for the economy.

    This boosts the costs of Small Business to provide health plans to workers. It reduces the money in the pockets of the common man to buy products. And it costs Tax Payers who pay the premium price for drugs under Government programs.

    All to line the pockets of a VERY rich set of companies.

     

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  14.  
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    Paul (profile), Sep 20th, 2011 @ 3:14pm

    Re: What about the costs to the Government? To the People? To the Economy?

    Edit: Common man should refer to us all, male and female. Sorry for using a dated term.

     

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  15.  
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    The Incoherent One (profile), Sep 20th, 2011 @ 3:23pm

    Re: Re:

    That is looking like less and less of a possibility regardless of how much campaign money he may have.

     

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  16.  
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    bjupton (profile), Sep 20th, 2011 @ 4:11pm

    Re:

    We really need to point out to people just how a tremendously selfless act like suicide can help the whole world.

    Selfish people and their lives.

     

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  17.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 20th, 2011 @ 4:31pm

    Big pharma is just like the big American auto makers, they will fail spetacurlarly at some point and it want be pretty.

    Which reminds me of Google, that has nothing to do with manufacturing cars but is the only one apparently in the US doing autonomous vehicles, while automakers in China and Europe are leading the way to advances in the area, how sad is that?

    Then when American auto makers go broke again it should not surprise anyone, we all know why they can't compete by now and that will happen to all industries that try to use IP as a protectionism mechanism to try and stay relevant.

     

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  18.  
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    Gumnos (profile), Sep 20th, 2011 @ 4:41pm

    Death is not(?) good for the economy...


    Even if you wanted to argue that it's somehow "good for the economy" to artificially prop up pharma companies with longer and stronger patents, if it comes at the expense of public health, that's not going to help the economy at all. A healthy population is a consuming population. Letting people die around the world is not good for the economy.


    Do you have any studies backing this? My gut feeling is that people with endangered health assume a "whatever it costs" desperation, even if it means driving them to the brink of bankruptcy (or over the edge). And if the poor are a burden on society's coffers, their deaths free up funds to better stimulate the economy.

    Unless of course, there are causes more important than a free market... :-)

     

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  19.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 20th, 2011 @ 4:50pm

    This will end up in a real patent war worldwide.

    Samsung just upped the stakes it will go after Apple and block anything they can anywhere they can.
    http://www.physorg.com/news/2011-09-samsung-sales-iphone.html

    How long until other countries start blocking US companies from operating in their territories too?

     

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  20.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 20th, 2011 @ 4:53pm

    Re: Death is not(?) good for the economy...

    Yes and look how well it is working for the US, that has the most expensive health system in the world and it is not that good compared to others that can offer better services at a fraction of the cost, that ultimately can collapse the entire health market inside the US when people realize they can just get treatment in Canada, New Zealand, Hong Kong, even Japan is cheaper.

    And you don't need a study to confirm that you just need to go to the websites of hospitals and see the prices they charge.

     

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  21.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 20th, 2011 @ 4:56pm

    Re: Death is not(?) good for the economy...

    Also common sense says that multiple manufacturers of something employ more people then just one company trying to extract the maximum from one market.

    The first thing companies try to reduce is personnel, that alone should give pause to people thinking IP is good.

    Giving a monopoly to one entity is what really kills jobs in the market.

     

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  22.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 20th, 2011 @ 5:18pm

    Medical Patents are killing the Human Lives industry

    Literally

     

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  23.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 20th, 2011 @ 9:21pm

    There is an underlying assumption here, and it seems to be that because patent law exists (domestically and internationally) there are persons in various part of the world who are dying for lack of efficacious medications.

    Is there a reliable reference that shows this is in fact the case?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 21st, 2011 @ 1:34am

    Re:

    Can you explain how people that make $10 a month can afford to be treated for heart disease or even asthma?

    I would love you to show how they do it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
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    PaulT (profile), Sep 21st, 2011 @ 1:43am

    Re: Re: What about the costs to the Government? To the People? To the Economy?

    I think that if anyone actually got offended by that, they need to re-evaluate their priorities...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
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    Rekrul, Sep 21st, 2011 @ 1:47am

    Re:

    There is an underlying assumption here, and it seems to be that because patent law exists (domestically and internationally) there are persons in various part of the world who are dying for lack of efficacious medications.

    Is there a reliable reference that shows this is in fact the case?


    A few years ago, my friend had a heart attack and had to have a stent put in one of his arteries. Along with that, he has to take an expensive medication (I forget the name, but I can check if you want), which is several hundred dollars for each refill. At the time he had health insurance, which his sister was helping him pay for (he's self-employed), but now he's un-insured. The only way he's able to afford the medication he needs is by buying it from a pharmacy in Canada that imports a generic version from some other country. Without it, his blood would probably clot around the stent and cause another heart attack.

    This is exactly the kind of medication that the US government wants to exclude. Not only that, they want to stop people from buying medications from other countries such as Canada, supposedly to protect consumers. It's really to protect the pharma companies' profits.

    I have Psoriatic Arthritis and a few years ago, I was having trouble walking. Most of the existing drugs didn't help much. I went on a drug study where I received a monthly IV infusion of Orencia, which helped greatly. I was told that to receive the same treatments outside the study would cost about $4,000 a dose.

    I'm now on a study that has almost completely cleared up my Psoriasis, and seems to be keeping the arthritis under control. I have no idea what the retail cost of this drug is, but I'm reasonably sure I wouldn't be able to afford it.

    I have no idea what I'll do when they decide to end this study...

     

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  27.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 21st, 2011 @ 2:07am

    Re:

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 21st, 2011 @ 2:14am

    Re: Re:

    This reminds me that nobody in America probably can afford medicine anymore and that cost is being transferred to the government that it is the real one paying for it all and now that it has to reduce costs in healthcare which is the obvious elephant in the room that no politician want to talk about it, this will probably kill even more people in America.

     

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  29.  
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    Thomas (profile), Sep 21st, 2011 @ 5:11am

    Just shows..

    that lots of different industry groups drop off fat envelopes at the White House. I wonder if they pay regularly or just an annual fee?

    It's not Obama; it's how it works in politics, whether the president is Republican or Democrat - they are all corrupt to some degree.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 21st, 2011 @ 6:15am

    Re: Medical Patents are killing the Human Lives industry

    The levels of brutality and greed on display here, by big pharma, are just amazing. They are literally prepared to kill millions of people, by denying them affordable medication, all for the unproven assertion that it will increase big pharma's profits. The immorality and the shortsightedness are breathtaking. Corporate psychopaths at work.

    Way to go, Americans, how to get yourselves hated, in one easy lesson. You do realize that this is going to backfire in a big bad way, don't you?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31.  
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    BeeAitch (profile), Sep 21st, 2011 @ 6:18am

    Re:

    That's what taxpayer-funded bailouts are for.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32.  
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    Jose_X, Sep 21st, 2011 @ 6:28am

    Re: Re:

    >> The US has conceded that compulsory licenses can be used for NCDs,... However, by removing the reference to the Doha Declaration, and maintaining the political position that the Doha Declaration does not apply to NCDs, the White House seeks to eliminate the "access to medicine for all" standard, and to raise doubts about the application of other elements of the Doha Declaration, including paragraphs 5, 6 and 7 to NCDs, **if not legally, at least politically**.

    This seems to be a political concession but not a legal change.

    I agree this is something to complain about. In fact, lots of things need to be in the complaining bin.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33.  
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    Hephaestus (profile), Sep 21st, 2011 @ 7:22am

    Re: Re: Re:

    I agree ... This, solyndra, blocking boeings new plant, etc. All come together to show how corrupt the man really is.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 21st, 2011 @ 8:04am

    Re: Re:

    For someone earning only $10/mo I would love you to show how one goes about simply feeding, providing clothing, and providing shelter can be accomplished for a family of 5.

    As for medications, everything I have ever read makes note of the fact that in the poorer regions of the world the major contributing factors to disease treatment is associated with the lack of dearth of medical facilities, medical personnel, distribution channels, etc.

    These have noting to do with patents. The have everything to do with the lack of readily available treatment facilities and personnel needed to provide medical care.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  35.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 21st, 2011 @ 8:07am

    Re: Re:

    There is a difference between news articles and reliable references demonstrating a causal link.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  36.  
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    bdhoro (profile), Sep 21st, 2011 @ 3:59pm

    wondering...

    This makes me wonder whether all the problems with the pharma industry started with government regulation.... If it was my business, and the government basically killed my revenue stream in the name of public health I would be quite annoyed.

    Whether you like it or not pharma companies and doctors etc are in business to make money. They aren't charities, but the nature of their business makes people think they should be charities - a doctor should be in it to make people healthy, not just to make money right? Wrong.

    A doctor's number one concern should be to make money. The means by which he does that should be by making people more healthy.
    And we need it to be that way, because nothing else is sustainable... Unfortunately, charities must be funded - usually by businesses.

    I'd place a pretty big bet that the pharma companies have produced more to promote public health than charities and the government combined.

    Its tough to walk the fine line that the pharma companies are on and we have to remember that when making policies. Its very easy to say hey its good for public health to give drugs away for free. Its hard to be the one who is "against public health" by actually having to make a living by keeping people living! How horrible those companies are - doing everything they can to stay in the business of making people healthier by demanding they be paid!

    If you're really concerned about public health you'd be concerned with making sure the pharma companies can stay in business. Just because they're supposed to be keeping us healthy doesn't mean the economics work any differently.

     

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  37.  
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    FarmerBob (profile), Sep 22nd, 2011 @ 3:27am

    Re:

    When the jump from CFC to HFA happened, inhalers being the last product mandated to changed, Big Pharma took it as an opportunity to inordinately raise prices in the same manner as Vinyl to CD. We were all told that since CD's were cheaper to make the price would be cheaper to buy. But did that happen? No. They're relatively the same price for an inferior product. And they wonder why pirating is on the rise? As far as inhalers, I was paying $7 per CFC inhaler, no insurance. Now with price matching it's $27 for an HFA, without $41 for less product. The new product costs less to produce, is severely mismarked as to how much you are getting, which is evident by the physical size of the container and past experience as to how long what size of container lasts. But since it's "new" it's inherently more expensive. ALTHOUGH, they say it is only a "temporary thing" until they get things "dialed in", which is total crap.

    I have worked for both the recording industry and big pharma (and have asthma from the former) and they lie to everyone, especially themselves. How else can you pass a polygraph or Congress for that matter, if you don't believe your own story?

     

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  38.  
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    Ben, Sep 25th, 2011 @ 10:27am

    What ideas like this say to me is that A: the US wants to move back to being pre 1940s protectionism and as a direct result of that B: doesn't want to have much external trade. I predict China says "fuck it, we can get everything we need from other countries and make Trillions on not following US patent/copyright laws." Russia goes along cause its cheap and close. So does the rest of asia including the middle east. Africa follows, except maybe for south africa briefly. Europe mostly doesn't for a while but the massive disparity in economics wins through and soon the US is left with only the Americas as trade partners but SA leaves and the US attacks Canada and Mexico, "just in case". The economy gets a momentary burst but Canada decides enough is enough and burns down the white house again, just like last time the US got their balls in a not and attacked.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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