International free trade agreements can significantly limit access to affordable medicines for patients. Our trade work focuses on the European Union’s (EU) international trade agenda, which pushes trading nations to introduce excessive levels of intellectual property protection. This prevents generic competition from occurring and keeps medicine prices unaffordable for longer—a financial challenge, in particular, for people in low- and middle-income countries.
All countries have the legal right to adapt patent standards or use other measures, like compulsory licensing, to mitigate strong intellectual property rules that damage health. The EU and pharmaceutical industry, however, pressure countries not to use these measures. The EU threatens to put countries on trade watch lists while pharmaceutical companies refuse to supply them with needed medicines. Countries are then left with no choice but to comply with excessive intellectual property demands. This keeps medicine prices unaffordable for many people in need.
Health Action International presses the European Union to consider the effects of its intellectual property demands on health and socio-economic development both at home and in low- and middle-income countries. We also support governments that make use of legal measures to work around excessive intellectual property rights to improve access to affordable medicines.