fb tracking

USTR Respects Fight for Medicine Access, Within WTO Rules

Washington, D.C. – Today the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) released its annual Special 301 Report, which criticizes countries’ intellectual property practices and establishes U.S. positions on global controversies such as patents and access to medicines, including “TRIPS flexibilities” under World Trade Organization rules. In a shift this year, USTR states its “policy of declining to call out countries for exercising TRIPS flexibilities, including with respect to compulsory licenses, in a manner consistent with TRIPS obligations.” Public Citizen’s Access to Medicines program director Peter Maybarduk issued the following statement:

“Ambassador Tai is making U.S. trade policy more humane and reflective of the values that drive the Biden administration’s domestic agenda for the American people, step by hard-fought step.

“President Biden has introduced measures to make medicines more affordable for Americans, including patented medicines. Now USTR, in an important evolution, is stating that it will not criticize other countries’ efforts to do the same, at least as regards compulsory licensing.

“Historically, the U.S. government has sided with Big Pharma at the expense of access to medicines and vaccines in developing countries, contributing to suffering and preventable death during the early global AIDS crisis and accepting access delays at the height of the Covid emergency.

“Today’s statement gives reason for hope. Countries struggling under the burden of high-priced medicine monopolies should know that the United States will not interfere with their efforts to make medicine affordable for their people, consonant with WTO rules.

“For example, Colombia yesterday issued a compulsory license that attends to the needs of people living with HIV by allowing the country to purchase affordable generic drugs from the Pan American Health Organization, instead of relying solely on the expensive patented drug. Colombia’s license will reach migrants who need treatment and support the financial sustainability of Colombia’s health system while promoting equity.

“In years past, the U.S. government sought to deter even consideration of such pro-health patent policies, in Colombia and many other countries, under potential penalty of trade sanctions, and provided cover for far more aggressive opposition tactics by powerful prescription drug corporations.

“Now, developing countries pursuing the access to medicine policies that are best for their people need not fear U.S. reprisal.

“This progress is constrained by the still-onerous and pharma-authored rules of the World Trade Organization. U.S. negotiators of a WHO pandemic accord have yet to accept forward-looking proposals from developing countries on medical patents. Finally, Special 301 still supports harmful rules favored by drug corporations, including challenges to practices safeguarding India’s provision of generics to the world. This must change.

“Yet we measure progress in steps. We appreciate Ambassador Tai’s commitment to health and respect for the choices of developing countries.”