New Delhi, 30 April 2020 — Amidst the ongoing global crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the United States Trade Representative (USTR) released its annual “Special 301 Report” targeting countries for implementing and supporting public health safeguards in their intellectual property laws and policies. In the 2020 report, countries like India, Brazil, China, Chile, and Canada have faced unwarranted pressure from the United States (US) government for measures adopted by them to ensure access to medicines.
The USTR, through its annual Special 301 Report, targets countries that it considers to have inadequate intellectual property protection and enforcement. At the behest of the pharmaceutical corporations, the Special 301 Report continues to threaten India, Brazil, China, Malaysia, Chile and several other countries for their patentability criteria, use of compulsory licensing, and absence of additional market exclusivities.
The COVID-19 pandemic brings to light how intellectual property and other exclusivities are an impediment to access treatment, diagnostics, and vaccines globally. As a consequence, a growing number of countries — from Chile to Germany — have indicated that they are prepared to issue compulsory licences to overcome monopoly control over medical tools to address the pandemic.
Meanwhile, the US government, instead of finding ways to address the barriers, is favouring these monopolies. The USTR has criticised more recently the Netherlands for its plan to adopt more public health friendly compulsory license rules. The emergency coronavirus spending bills adopted in March in Washington DC left out provisions that would have limited big pharma’s intellectual property rights and allowed the government to take action when publicly-funded medicines are highly priced. Moreover, right now, the Special 301 Report is another strike to block more affordable generic versions of medicines and keep their prices high, even in the middle of the pandemic.
Statement from Leena Menghaney, South Asia Head, MSF Access Campaign
“At a time when governments across the globe are struggling to provide adequate healthcare, it is ludicrous that the USTR is continuing to aid pharmaceutical corporations to profit from the abuse of intellectual property. It is a matter of concern that the US government is going after countries in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic for encouraging generic competition and price-lowering mechanisms to ensure access to medicines.
Medicines are meant to save lives, but what is the use of such medicines if they are unaffordable and inaccessible to millions of people even during a global health crisis. India, which has been on this watch list for years, is a major supplier of drugs across the globe, particularly for low- and middle-income countries. However, the US has been criticising the very same IP and medicines policies that ensure an uninterrupted global supply of medicines to many low- and middle-income countries.
Instead of pressuring countries like India for making use of public health safeguards consistent with international trade and intellectual property rules, the US government should take this opportunity to increase global collaboration, mitigate this public health crisis looming over humanity, and favour mandatory open sharing of COVID-19 technologies. At this moment, in the absence of any global framework to ensure access to lifesaving medical tools, it is imperative that countries promote the flexibilities available under international trade rules to overcome barriers to accessing COVID-19 treatments, diagnostics and vaccines.”
On 6 February 2020, Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) submitted comments to the USTR for its 2020 Special 301 Report review process, raising concerns of the public health impact of this process. Read MSF's submission here.