Since 1988, the USTR has been coming out with its "Special 301" report, a unilateral measure which essentially patronises the rest of the world by ranking countries based on how much the USTR appreciates their IP regimes, and based on those rankings, threatens lower placed countries with sanctions. (See our previous posts on the 301 process here). As usual, TRIPS-plus policies are the ones US considers desirable and are the ones that are promoted. They are considered 'adequate', while IP regimes which make use of TRIPS flexibilities are often targeted.
(Image at right taken from here)
Earlier last week, a group of 19 public interest organizations, including some from India, represented by Sean Flynn of PIJIP, filed a complaint with Anand Grover, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health, stating that the the Special 301 Report is being used to threaten countries into complying with higher standards than required by international agreements, and that this is adversely affecting access to medicines especially in low and middle income countries. They allege that the US has violated human rights of poor people all around the world with its implementation of this 301 process and other foreign policy coercion tactics. In summary, the complaint alleges the following: (as taken from PIJIP's site here)
While it's about time that this unilateral and arrogant process of the US is challenged, and looking through the grounds on which it is being challenged, it seems to me even if successful, this is but a minor step in the bigger picture of enabling accessible medicines. By no means do I intend to undermine the importance of challenging barriers such as this, yet however, removing a barrier to what is proving to be an grossly inefficient process (referring to the patent system in its current form - and grossly inefficient for low and middle income countries particularly), simply makes it a smoother journey through that same grossly inefficient process. Ideally, we would have a system which develops and provides for necessary medicines as well as ensures that they are affordable to those who need them. Although indeed, till there is a remedy to that process or a better alternative innovation system, challenges to existing policy measures are probably the best way forward.
Coming back to the Special 301 Report, Sean Flynn has also examined the Special 301 Reports and Global Access to Medicines in a working paper available here.
The complaint to the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health is available here.
Health GAP's Press Release is available here.