Photograph by Siddharth Singh Photograph by Siddharth Singh
Press release |

USTR Priority Watch List calls out countries for protecting public health

Photograph by Siddharth Singh
Photograph by Siddharth Singh Photograph by Siddharth Singh

New York, 27 April 2018 — The Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) released its annual “Special 301 Report” today, which reviews countries based on their intellectual property (IP) rights protection and enforcement. Countries that are deemed by the U.S. to not protect IP strongly enough are placed on this watch list.

At the urging of pharmaceutical corporations, the U.S. 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 U.S. uses to pressure other countries into letting pharmaceutical companies easily attain and hold patents, blocking more affordable generic versions of medicines from reaching patients.

The World Trade Organization’s agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) includes safeguards that try to ensure trade protections do not take precedence over public health needs. Under TRIPS, countries can override a patent through the use of compulsory licenses. This allows lower-cost versions of desperately-needed medicines to be supplied when a medicine is under patent.

"At a time when people all over the world are struggling to afford their medicines, it’s outrageous that the U.S. 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.

"People everywhere struggle to afford the medicines they need because companies set high prices—not based on R&D costs and not because patients aren’t paying their fair share—just because they can. And governments allow them to. Global trade policies give countries the right to act in the face of public health needs—they should be encouraged, not punished, for using these safeguards as they are meant to be used.

“India, which has been on this watch list for years, accounts for one fourth of the global burden of multi-drug resistant TB (MDR-TB). While patient groups have repeatedly urged the Indian government to fight to increase access to newer, safer, and more tolerable medicines for MDR-TB programs across the world—as India has done for HIV and older TB drugs—the U.S. government and the companies that make the drugs are pushing India to doing what’s best for them rather than the people desperately in need of treatment.

"Instead of penalizing countries like India for trying to care for their citizens, the U.S. should instead be taking the opportunity to work with countries to promote measures that get medicines into the hands of the people who need them most.”

Leonardo Palumbo, U.S. Advocacy Adviser for Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders’ Access Campaign

Examples of U.S. pressure on developing countries:
India: Civil society has repeatedly called on India to consider the case for compulsory licensing of newer TB drugs such as bedaquiline considering the burden of MDR-TB in the country and the role it plays in ensuring a supply of essential HIV and TB medicines across the developing world. Indian generic companies supply affordable, lifesaving medicines used to treat communicable and non-communicable diseases in many developing countries. For example, two thirds of all the drugs MSF purchases to treat HIV, TB, and malaria are generic medicines made in India.
Colombia: Colombia has faced significant pressure from the U.S. after considering a compulsory license on a more than 20-year-old cancer drug called imatinib (Gleevec), including a threat in 2016 to withhold funding for the “Peace Colombia” initiative if the license was issued. In addition to placing Colombia on this list this year, USTR has threatened to block the country from joining the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
Malaysia: Most recently, the government of Malaysia, in its efforts to scale-up of hepatitis C treatment and make it available in the public health system throughout the country, issued a “government use” license enabling the procurement of generic sofosbuvir by the Ministry of Health at the lowest possible price. This decision affirmed its commitment to help the more than 400,000 people living with hepatitis C in Malaysia access lifesaving treatment for HCV. As a result, lobbying groups like Biotechnology Innovation Organization, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, National Association of Manufacturers, and the United States Chamber of Commerce are calling for Malaysia to be named in the Special 301 Report.