USTR IP Report Sparks Outcry Among Health Advocates

The annual Special 301 report of the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) issued today sparked a quick outcry among health advocates over its seemingly more restrictive approach they say bullies other countries into unfairly promoting US pharmaceutical industry rights to an extent that would raise drug prices and limit accessibility.

The Special 301 report (see IP-Watch story today) unilaterally assesses the adequacy of US trading partners’ protection of US intellectual property rights. In a call with reporters today, a USTR official said it conducted a wide-ranging process in coming to its conclusions, including hearing from more than three dozen nongovernmental organisations and nearly two dozen foreign governments.

But NGOs appear to feel their views were ignored.

“The Trump administration has just published a shameful report calling on many countries to give prescription corporations more privileges to charge higher prices for the medicines that people need – or face consequences from the US government,” Public Citizen said in a release.

USTR uses its Special 301 report “to bully countries into giving up policies that advance health and access to educational resources in favor of giving more money to multinational corporations,” the group said. “Listing can lead to trade sanctions and is used against countries’ priorities in diplomatic and commercial relations with the United States.”

“This year, the Trump administration has chosen to be even worse,” Public Citizen said. “The watch list published today includes new and aggressive passages attacking policies used in many parts of the world to make medicines affordable. This marks a shameful departure in U.S. health and trade policy that places people’s lives at risk.”

For example, it points out, the report includes a new passage (p. 14) challenging countries that “unfairly issue, threaten to issue or encourage others to issue” compulsory licenses. “But patent licensing saves lives by authorizing affordable generic competition with expensive drugs. Licensing is a standard and essential part of any patent system; intended to protect the public interest and defend against abuse. It is necessary to respond to HIV/AIDS, cancer, hepatitis and other serious diseases,” the group argues.

“At a time when people all over the world are struggling to afford their medicines, it’s outrageous that the US government is doing pharma’s bidding and bullying other countries into taking actions that would restrict generic competition and limit access to affordable, lifesaving drugs,” Leonardo Palumbo, US advocacy adviser for Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF, Doctors Without Borders said in a release.

“At the urging of pharmaceutical corporations, the US has used this report to unfairly target countries such as India—known as the “pharmacy of the developing world” because it supplies affordable quality generic medicines globally—Colombia, Malaysia, and other countries for using legal measures allowed under international trade rules to improve access to medicines,” MSF said. “This report is yet another tactic the US uses to pressure other countries into letting pharmaceutical companies easily attain and hold patents, blocking more affordable generic versions of medicines from reaching patients.”

And Knowledge Ecology International Europe’s Thiru Balasubramaniam tweeted that the US approach hearkens back to before the 2001 Doha Ministerial at which the Declaration on TRIPS and Public Health was agreed, clarifying nations’ right to use flexibilities in the TRIPS agreement such as compulsory licensing for public health purposes. TRIPS is the World Trade Organization Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights.



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