Senator Bernie Sanders Asks USTR to Endorse Waiver of WTO Patent Rules for Least Developed Countries

Knowledge Ecology International Press Release
28 September 2015
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT: Zack Struver
+1 (202) 332-2670
zack.struver@keionline.org

Senator Bernie Sanders asks USTR to endorse “indefinite waiver” of WTO requirements to grant drug patents for Least Developed Countries (LDCs)

Washington, DC — Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) sent a letter today (link to Sanders Press Release and a copy of the letter here), Sept. 28, 2015, to Ambassador Michael Froman, urging the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) to endorse an “indefinite waiver” of WTO requirements to grant drug patents for Least Developed Countries (LDCs).

The letter deals with a negotiation at the World Trade Organization (WTO) over a request by Least Developed Countries for an indefinite exception for LDCs on obligations to grant and enforce patents on pharmaceutical products, until graduation from LDC status.

LDCs are the 48 poorest countries in the world, representing 13 perecent of the world’s population. In 2014, the per capita income in LDC countries was just $928, 2.4 percent of the OECD average. In 2013, LDCs spent $47 per capita on health, compared to $4,657 in OECD countries. In LDCs, only one in three persons lives with access to electricity. (See: KEI Briefing Note. 2015:3. Comparison of key indicators between LDC, Non­-LDC and OECD countries, http://keionline.org/sites/default/files/KEI-BN-2015-3-LDC-non-LDC-OECD-comparisons.pdf).

In the WTO, indefinite waiver of the obligation to grant patents in the poorest countries has widespread support, including by the European Union (http://keionline.org/node/2319). But the Obama Administration is blocking the indefinite waiver, and seeking to attach restrictive conditions. On September 11, several health groups wrote to USTR and USPTO (http://keionline.org/node/2322), objecting to the US position on the LDC extension. On September 21, Knowledge Ecology International asked the White House and the Department of Commerce (http://keionline.org/node/2326) to investigate if the USPTO and USTR actions violated President Clinton's executive order protecting Sub-Saharan African countries access to generic drugs.

In the letter to the United States Trade Representative, Senator Bernie Sanders wrote:

“All over the world, people are finding that the prices of prescription drugs they need are rising and for many people, simply unaffordable. As a result, sick people get sicker. Some die. This situation is especially dire in the poorest countries in the world, countries classified by the United Nations (UN) as Least-Developed Countries (LDCs). The inability of people in these countries to afford the medicine they need is made worse because of a lack of a stable economy or public health infrastructure.

I am writing to request the administration endorse an indefinite waiver of the World Trade Organization's (WTO) obligation to grant and enforce pharmaceutical patents for countries classified by the UN as LDCs. This request is urgent, as the decision will be made in mid-October at the WTO in Geneva.”

James Love, Director of Knowledge Ecology International said, “Senator Sanders does not want the United States to stain its reputation by blocking the poorest people on earth from having access to affordable generic medicines. Other Presidential candidates should make statements about this issue. Ambassador Michael Froman, a former hedge fund manager for Citibank, and President Obama, who campaigned as a community organizer for the poor and champion of social justice, should search their souls as they consider the ramifications of this decision for millions of people, and join the global consensus to allow these 48 countries to do what they think is best for their citizens.”

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