A highly flawed report that employs the mantle of global health to take aim at innovation and manufacturing was released today by a U.N. panel, representing a real missed opportunity to focus the world on collaborative and effective solutions that could make a substantial difference for real people facing access barriers.
It is a fact that millions of people around the world lack access to the most essential medicines. But since 95 percent of the essential medicines as defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) are off-patent, intellectual property rights are being used unfairly as a scapegoat. While wrongly focusing on its attack on innovative manufacturing, today’s report missed the opportunity to consider and provide recommendations for the myriad actual problems that are holding back the delivery of medicines in many parts of the world. As explained by the State Department in February, the U.N. High-Level Panel on Access to Medicines’ (UNHLP) mandate was “too narrow to address the many and often inter-related barriers to access to safe, effective and affordable medicines,” from infrastructure and human resources to WHO-identified national policies, such as trade and procurement rules that raise prices for consumers.
Instead, the UNHLP report makes multiple proposals to weaken key parts of the international trading and the innovation ecosystem to the detriment of innovative manufacturing, job creation and access problems around the world that require effective solutions. For example, the report takes direct aim at the World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), urging renegotiation to add new exceptions that allow for even broader use of compulsory licensing that TRIPS already authorizes for health emergencies. It even goes so far as to urge investigation of WTO members that seek to enforce basic intellectual property rights through long-established procedures and the existing agreement that has been ratified by more than 160 countries. The UNHLP does not stop there. It seeks to restrict a nation’s patentability of key medicines, thus discouraging innovation in those areas. It also goes after free trade agreements, calling for agreements like those long negotiated by the United States that include stronger protections than required under TRIPS provisions be “halted, reserved and banned.” The report also calls for other changes to trade agreements that would limit the ability of property owners to fair and nondiscriminatory treatment and neutral dispute settlement.
These and many other UNHLP proposals represent a major threat to America’s innovative manufacturing sector and the millions of jobs it supports. Manufacturing in the United States has long relied upon the strong protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights to spur growth and innovation and create highly skilled and good-paying jobs. Indeed, the U.S. intellectual property rights system and longstanding intellectual property rules agreed to by more than 160 countries as part of WTO and World Intellectual Property Organization agreements and treaties provide powerful incentives for the creation of solutions to many global challenges, from developing new, clean water technologies and improving energy efficiency to delivering the next generation of lifesaving health medications and detection technologies. America’s strong innovation culture, which has had intellectual property rights protections at its core since our nation’s founding, has propelled manufacturing in the United States to be a solutions leader. Today’s report not only could lead to a weakening of health care innovation, but may also be used as a template to undermine innovation in every major manufacturing sector to the detriment of American jobs and our communities.
Today’s lose–lose UNHLP report represents a serious failure of the U.N. system and moves the world no closer at all to addressing the serious issues faced by millions around the world, while undermining the very innovation and jobs that are part of the solution. The NAM and our manufacturing members urge the U.S. government and all others that care about manufacturing and the promotion of innovative manufacturing sectors that can create solutions to major global challenges to condemn the report and work to prevent its further adoption and use in either multilateral or bilateral forums. As well, it should immediately prompt a serious review by the U.S. and other governments of the factors that allowed this flawed process to move forward in the first place so that this type of slanted and anti-manufacturing approach does not happen again.