[A2k] Jamie Love’s Next Big Idea: Making the WTO into a force for good in Public Health
claire.cassedy at keionline.org
Wed Jun 11 08:55:16 PDT 2014
Jamie Love’s Next Big Idea: Making the WTO into a force for good in Public
06 Jun 2014
By Duncan Green, Oxfam
I’ve heard the name Jamie Love mentioned in reverential tones over the
years, and a few weeks ago, I was asked by STOPAIDS to interview him in an
‘in Jamie Loveconversation’ format in front of a small group of activists.
It was fantastic fun (for me at least).
Jamie is director of Knowledge Ecology International and is known as
perhaps the world’s leading activist and policy entrepreneur on reforming
the rules governing research and development (R&D) for medicines and
medical technologies and the role of intellectual property (IP, more of
that later), but I started off asking him about his ‘moment of conversion’
– when did he decide to become an activist?
As often happens, the answer was pretty surprising. As an 18 year old Nixon
Republican, Jamie headed off on a romantic quest to work in a fishing
cannery in Alaska. He found himself the only white boy among Filipino
migrants in a semi-apartheid system, in which the Filipinos were banned
from operating cranes or going into town unaccompanied, and women were paid
less than men. He got radicalized, ended up giving evidence in a Department
of Justice investigation, and then started a non-profit free medical
clinic/advice centre for the unemployed in Anchorage.
Fast forward 45 years and what is he most proud of? He dashed off some
extraordinary wins – working with Ralph Nader to win public access to key
US government databases in the 90s, then getting involved in IP, working
with a coalition of activist groups like MSF to launch a global campaign
for compulsory licensing of patents on AIDS medicines. His work included:
- Negotiating with CIPLA, an Indian generics firm, a $1 a day price for
- The Doha declaration on TRIPS and Public Health
- An innovative ‘patent pool’ system to encourage drugs R&D in neglected
tropical. For example UNITAID created a Medicine Patent Pool, to which big
Pharma licenses HIV medicines , and which in turn sublicenses to generic
companies, thereby enhancing competition
- With the World Blind Union, developing a proposal for a treaty on
copyright exceptions for blind people – the first human rights-related
treaty on IP. The treaty was agreed in 2013 and over 50 countries have
signed up including the US.
At 65, his drive is unabated. His next big idea (he doesn’t do small ones)
is to try and find a way to revive the public R&D system for new drugs,
which in recent decades has been squeezed out by funding cuts, IP and Big
To reverse this, he is dusting off a 2009 proposal for a new WTO Agreement
on the Supply of Public Goods (ASPG) (it got sidelined by all the interest
in the Treaty on the Blind Union). Here’s what he said at the meeting:
‘The WTO was set up to promote trade in private goods and services. To do
this, it created a dispute resolution mechanism (DRM) far more serious than
any human rights agreement.
The architectural model for the ASPG is the Global Agreement on Trade in
Services (GATS): countries table their promises, either individually or as
groups. They then negotiate with other countries about their promises. Once
the promises are agreed, they becomes binding, and subject to the DRM.
So for example, a country could offer to fund R&D into tuberculosis drugs,
or pledge cash for the Global Fund, or regulatory reform (access to
information on drug trials, or exemptions on patents for neglected
According to Love, the US and UK governments both like it, (he hasn’t
talked to China yet) – he has yet to find any opposition. The GATS system
of request and offer would both add teeth (via the DRM) to the kind of
promises leaders love to bandy about at international summits (and then
escape without sanction when they break them) and avoid the attempt to
negotiate a single overarching treaty of everything, which has got so stuck
in the current Doha round of trade talks.
What do you think of the idea? As he spoke, I could feel the policy wonk
‘yes buts’ welling up. Yes, but do we really want to make the WTO even more
powerful? Yes, but surely, countries are never going to start talks on a
new agreement when the Doha Round has been such a disaster? Yes, but would
government really invoke the DRM on another government’s failure to pursue
public interest goals?
But that’s just me picking nits – Jamie Love is a visionary policy
entrepreneur, pushing out big ideas at an astonishing rate (he really ought
to patent them…..) Even more astonishing is the number of them that end up
being adopted in some form. I wouldn’t bet against seeing something on this
in the WTO ten years down the line. It might even end up salvaging its
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