6 August 2020
Interagency Study Traces Linkages between Public Health, Intellectual Property, Trade
Photo courtesy of SDG Fund
story highlights

Emphasizing the need for policy coherence, the study notes that “innovation cannot take place in isolation from concerns about access” and outlines how WTO agreements aim to ensure that trade practices do not become discriminatory.

Completed prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, the study includes a standalone section to map the multiple challenges posed by the pandemic in relation to the integrated health, trade, and intellectual property policy frameworks.

The World Trade Organization (WTO), World Health Organization (WHO) and World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) have issued the second edition of a trilateral study that aims to build understanding of the interplay between the policy domains of health, trade, and intellectual property (IP), and their impacts on medical innovation and access to medical technologies.

The joint publication titled, ‘Promoting Access to Medical Technologies and Innovation: Intersections between Public Health, Intellectual Property and Trade,’ provides an update since the first edition’s launch in 2013. The study presents new data on health, innovation trends in the pharmaceutical sector, and trade and tariffs relating to medical products, capturing insights from joint technical assistance activities and taking into account developments in intellectual property legislation and jurisprudence.

The study “draws practical lessons from experiences regarding how public health, IP, trade and competition rules all interact with each other in the broader context of the human rights dimension of health and the [SDGs].” Given recent rapid changes in these policy arenas due to COVID-19, a WTO landing page for the study notes that “a standalone section on COVID-19 was added at the start of the publication to map the multiple challenges posed by the pandemic in relation to the integrated health, trade and IP policy frameworks set out in the study,” given that the report had been completed prior to the virus’s outbreak.

The COVID-19 section points readers to specific chapters, sections, and sub-sections of the report, and provides additional relevant information on:

  • Meeting the demand for health technologies and medical services;
  • Preserving effective international trade;
  • The global IP system vis-à-vis the pandemic;
  • International initiatives to support research and development of, and equitable access to, COVID-19 technologies;
  • Regulatory responses; and
  • Efforts to ensure transparency.

International trade has assumed increasing importance in ensuring supplies of health-related goods.

The study itself describes the need for policy coherence and the role of the three authoring institutions (Chapter 1), summarizes the policy landscape (Chapter 2), and offers detailed information on the issues that specifically pertain to medical innovation and the research and development landscape (Chapter 3) and access (Chapter 4). The report draws connections to the SDGs and means of implementation such as trade throughout. Chapter 2 highlights linkages to SDGs 3 (good health and well-being), 9 (industry, innovation and infrastructure) and 17 (partnerships for the Goals), and describes key elements of trade policy such as tariffs, government procurement rules, and free trade agreements (FTAs). Chapter 4 considers the impact of trade and trade policy on access to medicines and medical technologies.

Noting that “innovation cannot take place in isolation from concerns about access,” the study emphasizes the need to preserve the global trade’s integrity. It observes that “international trade has assumed increasing importance in ensuring supplies of health-related goods.” Recognizing governments’ recent implementation of trade-restrictive emergency measures such as export restrictions, the report also stresses “the importance of well-functioning supply chains and the need to facilitate cross-border flows of vital medical supplies and services.”

With the EU, the US, China, and Switzerland accounting for nearly three-quarters of the total share of health-related product exports, the majority of the global community appears reliant on imports. The study notes that from 1995 to 2018, “substantial and widening variations in per capita imports of health-related products” have been observed in countries at different levels of development, “highlighting stark differences in access to medicines.”  Acknowledging the global trade regime’s increasing complexity, the study points to the existence of WTO agreements such as, inter alia, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), and Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) as establishing rules to ensure that tariffs and non-tariff measures “do not become discriminatory or [become] unnecessary trade barriers.”

The WTO, WHO, and WIPO Directors-General each provided video remarks to support the launch of the study. WTO Director-General Roberto Azevêdo highlighted the importance of close collaboration between the agencies, and joint global efforts more broadly, while WIPO Director-General Francis Gurry emphasized the importance of an interdisciplinary approach. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called for the removal of barriers to access, highlighting “unaffordable prices, intellectual property barriers, unjustified tariffs and challenges in ensuring effective and efficient regulatory review,” but also pointed to “unprecedented investments in collaborative, not-for-profit research” to tackle the shared threat of COVID-19. [Publication: Promoting Access to Medical Technologies and Innovation, Second Edition] [WTO Publication Landing Page] [WTO Press Release]

related posts