World Trade Organization: A Barrier to Global Public Health?
INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY LAW AND ACCESS TO MEDICINE: TRIPS AGREEMENT, HEALTH, AND PHARMACEUTICALS, Amaka Vanni and Srividhya Ragavan, eds., Routledge, 2021, Forthcoming
17 Pages Posted: 13 Oct 2020 Last revised: 5 Nov 2020
Date Written: October 12, 2020
The harmonized trading system of the WTO was built on an underlying ideology that egalitarian access to health is a barrier to trade and that disparate access to health was the solution to innovation. A public health crisis in one part of the world can affect global trade in unimaginable ways. Thus, protecting public health has become the threshold to protect global trade. In the face of a global pandemic, access to health care and medication is the one paradigm that can alleviate many global concerns, including those involving and related to trade such as employment, travel, and more. Lack of medications – either from lack of availability of medication or lack of access – can catapult a possible national public health issue into an international global health crisis. The role of the WTO as the gatekeeper for minimizing and eliminating trade barriers remains important in taking a strategic leadership position for health-related matters. Despite this reality, the WTO has remained normative and divorced from the real impact of local realities on larger health issues.
Indeed, the WTO’s failure to balance innovation with access has caused, contributed to, and affected access to medications. While the WTO’s emphasis on patents on lifesaving medications played a role in innovation, it largely facilitated corporations from disengaging with issues that raise public policy, public health, and right to life concerns – both by commissions and omissions that denied access to lifesaving medications. This paper outlines seven specific ways in which the WTO has, through its actions, inactions, and/or prescriptions, detrimentally affected access to medicines. Hence, it outlines how the WTO’s myopic actions resulted in trade becoming a barrier to public health, and in turn, to trade itself.
Keywords: patent, World Trade Organization, medication, TRIPS Agreement
JEL Classification: Trade, patents, WTO, TRIPS
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation