Medicines are not like other tradeable goods, and free trade agreements (FTA) can have a significant impact on their accessibility. Our work on trade focuses on the European Union’s (EU) international trade agenda, and how that affects other policy areas, including the promotion of global health, or the fulfilment of the Sustainable Development Goals.

We support the use of legal and administrative measures by governments to counteract the damaging effects of excessive intellectual property (IP) rights, which improves access to affordable medicines. These measures include the use of compulsory licenses or stringent criteria for patents.

It is critical that public health concerns – from sanitary safety measures to access to medicines or government procurement of health goods – be part of the discussion when negotiating the trade agenda.

It is important to understand that any new free trade negotiation does not start from scratch. There is an almost universal consensus around flexibilities recognised in the TRIPS Agreement, confirmed by the Doha Declaration on TRIPS and Public Health. These must be accepted as non-negotiable benchmarks or departure points. For this to happen, it is important that governments integrate public health concerns into the broader national interest agenda.

The first step in making use of flexibilities is to create the legal and policy space to make them operational. On one hand, this involves amending or enacting specific legal and administrative norms that set out the details for authorising a compulsory licence or describing the steps to negotiate a voluntary licence. On the other hand, it is critical that authorities inform all stakeholders (including patients, patent holders, organised civil society and the generic and innovative pharmaceutical industry) that flexibilities are among the measures available to promote and protect public health. In doing so, they must be made aware of the conditions that would allow their implementation. This includes, among other things, anti-competitive practices, frivolous patenting and the failure to exploit innovation.

We have compiled our resources on TRIPS Flexibilities that provide a deeper insight into these areas. In this toolkit you will find more information on the tools available, and the work being done, to improve access to affordable medicines for everyone, everywhere.

Our Tools