The High Price of 'Free' Trade: U.S. Trade Agreements and Access to Medicines

31 Pages Posted: 28 Apr 2013

See all articles by Ruth Lopert

Ruth Lopert

Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA)

Deborah Gleeson

La Trobe University

Date Written: April 12, 2013


The United States' pursuit of increasingly TRIPS-Plus levels of intellectual property protection for medicines in bilateral and regional trade agreements is well recognized. Less so, however, are U.S. efforts through these agreements to influence and constrain the pharmaceutical coverage programs of its trading partners. Although arguably unsuccessful in the Australia-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (AUSFTA), the U.S. nevertheless succeeded in its bilateral FTA with South Korea (KORUS) in establishing prescriptive provisions pertaining to the operation of coverage and reimbursement programs for medicines and medical devices, which have the potential to adversely impact future access in that country. More recently, draft texts leaked from the current Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) negotiations show that U.S. objectives include not only AUSFTA-Plus and KORUS-Plus IP provisions but also ambitious inroads into the domestic health programs of its TPPA partners. This highlights the apparent conflict between trade goals - pursued through multilateral legal instruments to promote economic “health” - and public health objectives, such as the development of treatments for neglected diseases, the pursuit of efficiency and equity in priority setting, and the procurement of medicines at prices that reflect their therapeutic value and facilitate affordable access.

Keywords: Trade agreements, access to medicines, trans pacific partnership agreement, intellectual property, pharmaceuticals

JEL Classification: I18

Suggested Citation

Lopert, Ruth and Gleeson, Deborah, The High Price of 'Free' Trade: U.S. Trade Agreements and Access to Medicines (April 12, 2013). Journal of Law, Medicine and Ethics, Vol. 41, No. 1, 2013, Available at SSRN:

Ruth Lopert (Contact Author)

Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) ( email )

136 Narrabundah Lane
Symonston, 2609

Deborah Gleeson

La Trobe University ( email )

School of Psychology and Public Health
Victoria, 3068
+61 3 9479 3262 (Phone)

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