U.S. Trade Watch List Threatens Access to Lifesaving Drugs

U.S. Trade Rep 'Special 301' Report Favors Pharma Over Patients

NEW YORK, NY, April 30, 2010 — The U.S. government’s decision to place India, Thailand, Brazil, and other countries on its annual trade "Watch Lists" is a tactic that threatens access to affordable generic drugs for patients in the developing world, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said today.

The "Watch Lists," in the annual Special 301 Report released today by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), take action against countries the U.S. considers to be inadequately protecting intellectual property, even though they are complying with international agreements.

Thailand, Brazil and India—the world’s principal producer of quality generic medicines—were singled out for insufficient enforcement of intellectual property. However, the countries challenged are acting within their legal rights when they limit the issuance of patents—such as in India and Brazil—or when they override existing medicine patents through the use of compulsory licenses, as Thailand has done in the past.

"It is unacceptable that the U.S. is continuing to threaten developing countries aiming to provide medicines to their populations, and disregarding international commitments to ensure access to medicines," said Emi MacLean, U.S. director of MSF's Access to Essential Medicines Campaign. "The U.S. is using its trade laws to bully developing countries into applying arbitrary pharmaceutical industry requests at the expense of millions of people who depend on generic medicines in developing countries."

At a time of major global funding shortfalls for health programs, the USTR is working counter to the efforts of U.S. global health programs, such as its HIV/AIDS program PEPFAR, which purchases 70-90 percent of its drugs from generic suppliers.

"The terrible irony is that these pressure tactics would, if successful, limit the scope of actions countries can take to promote access to generic medicines, and undermine even the U.S. government's own global health efforts," MacLean said.

Thailand remained on the "Priority Watch List" after having issued compulsory licenses to obtain affordable AIDS and heart disease medicines.

"By maintaining Thailand on the Priority Watch List, in part due to Thailand's use of compulsory licenses to ensure access to essential medicines, the Obama administration has acted in direct conflict with a stated commitment to ensure that access to affordable generic medicines for the developing world is not obstructed," said Paul Cawthorne, regional campaigner for the Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines based in Thailand.

Today's USTR report puts India under even more international pressure to heighten its intellectual property laws. The U.S. government, MSF, and most global health programs obtain the majority of their HIV medicines from Indian generic suppliers. India has become the "pharmacy of the developing world" because it has maintained important, and entirely legal, public health safeguards that are critical to ensuring access to affordable generic medicines.

"In India this isn't a trade story, it's quite literally a life and death issue," said Leena Menghaney, MSF Access Campaign manager in New Delhi. "Any attempt or threat to India’s ability to continue to produce quality generics—and the U.S. actions today represent just that—will have a devastating effect on people living with HIV all over the developing world."

Letter from Rep. Waxman on the Special 301.

Letter from John Baldacci, Governor of Maine, to Kathleen Sebelius on Special 301.