Global Policy Forum

UN's Airline Drug Tax 'Getting Support'

October 10, 2006

Countries around the globe are rallying to the idea of taxing air travel to fund the provision of cheaper drugs to poor countries fighting AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, France's foreign minister said. But Philippe Douste-Blazy said it was essential for many more to come on board to ensure the success of the drug purchase programme through a new UN-backed project, UNITAID.

"Other countries are going to join us. We are already seeing that a genuine globalisation of solidarity is under way," he told the first session of the governing board of UNITAID, launched in New York last month by five nations. "But there must and can be many more of us," he told a news conference later.

The five launch nations were France, which is to contribute some $250 million next year, Brazil, Britain, Norway and Chile. United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan and former US President Bill Clinton joined them in the September launch. Nineteen rich and poorer countries have already agreed to levy the tax - applied since July in France, whose President Jacques Chirac first proposed it - and others say they will raise funds for the new body in other ways.

The tax is also already enforced in Brazil, Chile and Gabon, with several others to follow by early next year, but it has been fiercely opposed by airlines which say it hits them unfairly and will reduce tourism to developing countries. But Douste-Blazy, who was elected as president of UNITAID on Monday, dismissed this argument at the news conference, saying the tiny levy involved was unlikely to deter anyone. In France, the tax amounts to one euro ($1.69) a ticket on a domestic or European economy class flight and four euros on a business or first class seat. These figures are multiplied by four for transcontinental journeys.

In all, 44 countries have joined the pilot group that set up UNITAID, which will operate out of the U.N.'s World Health Organisation (WHO) in Geneva and aims through bulk ordering to buy vital medicines at low cost. Its declared aim is to bring about a reduction in the price of medications and to encourage drug companies to develop new treatments by ensuring competition among them for its custom.



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