[Ip-health] Inside U.S. Trade: Civil Society, AIDS Groups Decry U.S. Reluctance On TRIPS Drug Waiver

Zack Struver zack.struver at keionline.org
Fri Oct 23 13:48:07 PDT 2015

Inside U.S. Trade

Civil Society, AIDS Groups Decry U.S. Reluctance On TRIPS Drug Waiver

Posted: October 22, 2015

The United States government has been condemned by nearly one hundred civil
society and HIV/AIDS treatment groups operating in poor Asia-Pacific and
sub-Saharan African countries for resisting a proposal that would
indefinitely absolve least-developed countries (LDCs) of their drug-related
obligations under the TRIPS Agreement.

In an Oct. 21 letter addressed to U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman
and U.S. Ambassador to the World Trade Organization Michael Punke, the
groups say they are "shocked and outraged" by the U.S. insistence on a
"paltry" 10-year waiver, and say it could hinder access to less-expensive
medicines including for people living with HIV.

"Failing to take prompt action to expand current treatment coverage will
most definitely result in a rise in new HIV infections and the number of
AIDS-related deaths. A similar significant need exists to address
non-communicable diseases," write the groups, which hail from Bangladesh,
Cambodia, Lesotho and Uganda, among other countries.

Noting that socio-economic conditions in LDCs have not significantly
improved during the 20 years since TRIPS -- the Agreement on Trade-Related
Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights -- even as the public health need
for generic drugs has increased, the groups argue that a waiver of even 25
years would be "simply inadequate."

Like the LDC governments themselves, the groups ask for an indefinite
waiver that would apply to these poor countries for as long as they are
considered to be LDCs.

"LDCs cannot deal with the increasing communicable and non-communicable
disease burden without the assurance of continuous availability of generic
medicines. Moreover, it is unreasonable for the U.S. to burden severely
impoverished and vulnerable LDCs by requiring them to repeatedly seek
extensions," they add.

The groups also address Punke and Froman on a personal level, warning that
they risk leaving behind a legacy after their government careers of having
put people in poor countries at greater health risk.

"Please consider that if in the last year of the Obama Administration your
legacy is to block a permanent waiver of drug patent rules for LDCs, while
you have in your power the ability to protect poor people, then you will be
remembered as having taken a decision that only makes living in LDCs more
at risk for lacking access to basic health care needs," the groups write.

The stinging criticism of the U.S. government comes after an Oct. 15-16
meeting of the TRIPS Council in Geneva was suspended amid a deadlock
between the U.S. and LDC diplomats. Punke, in an Oct. 16 meeting with LDC
representatives in Geneva, offered the 10-year extension of the waiver that
was rejected.

The waiver issue was on the agenda of the TRIPS Council meeting, but after
it could not be resolved, the chairman suspended the session to allow the
U.S. and LDCs to resolve it before it would be brought up; the session was
not resumed this week, as had earlier been expected. The existing waiver of
TRIPS obligations on pharmaceutical patents and protection of undisclosed
clinical test data for LDCs expires on Jan. 1, 2016.

The U.S. had long made clear it opposes the LDC demand for an indefinite
waiver of the pharmaceutical obligations that would stay in place until a
country graduates from the LDC designation.

The LDC position, by contrast, is supported by Switzerland and other
trading partners. In contrast, the European Union has expressed support for
the indefinite waiver, which benefits the 48 poorest countries in the
world. The Council of the EU on Oct. 16 published a decision to support the
waiver in the Official Journal of the EU.

In addition to the LDC groups, global access to medicines activists and
U.S. lawmakers have also joined in calling on the U.S. government to back
an indefinite waiver. Public Citizen, Oxfam, Knowledge Ecology
International and three other non-governmental organizations urged
President Obama in a letter sent Oct. 19 to accept the LDC proposal,
calling the U.S. offer of a 10-year waiver "meager" and the U.S. position

House Ways & Means Committee Ranking Member Sander Levin (D-MI) in a joint
letter with Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY) to Froman also said that the LDC
proposal should be accepted.

While acknowledging the argument that a sound intellectual property regime
can help foster development, they contend that "the health of these
populations is the immediate obstacle toward redressing the profound
poverty in LDCs." Levin and Rangel add that "the waiver for LDCs should not
end on an arbitrary, fixed date."

In an Oct. 2 letter, seven House Democrats led by Reps. Jan Schakowsky
(D-NY) and Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) also urged the administration to support an
indefinite waiver. As of mid-week, these Democrats had not received a
verbal or written response to their letter from USTR, according to a
congressional aide.

In addition, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) weighed into the debate with an Oct.
14 letter to Froman, noting that the waiver now expiring has allowed LDCs
to afford HIV treatments and increase their access to them.Sen. Bernie
Sanders (I-VT) also supported the LDC waiver in a Sept. 28 letter, saying
it will give those countries a better chance to build public health
infrastructures to contain global threats, such as the Ebola virus.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Joint United
Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) supported the LDC request in a May
2015 statement. It said by approving the waiver request, WTO countries had
an opportunity to help least-developed countries access antiretroviral
drugs and other key medicines in LDCs, a point made in the Feb. 20 request
made by Bangladesh on behalf of the LDC group to the WTO. Failure to
support the waiver could put millions of lives at risk, UNDP and UNAIDS

Inside U.S. Trade - 10/23/2015 , Vol. 33, No. 41

Zack Struver, Communications and Research Associate
Knowledge Ecology International
zack.struver at keionline.org
Twitter: @zstruver <https://twitter.com/zstruver>
Office: +1 (202) 332-2670 Cell: +1 (914) 582-1428

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