Seven Members of House of Representatives Send Letter to USTR Calling For Waiver of WTO Patent Rules for LDCs

October 2, 2015
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: Zack Struver
+1 (202) 332-2670
zack.struver@keionline.org

Seven House Members Push U.S. Trade Representative to Support Indefinite Waiver on Pharmaceutical Patents for Least Developed Countries (LDCs)

WASHINGTON — Seven members of the House of Representatives sent a letter today, October 2, 2015, to Ambassador Michael Froman, urging the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) to support the request by Least Developed Countries (LDCs) for an “indefinite waiver” of WTO requirements to grant patents on pharmaceuticals.

The letter comes just two weeks before negotiations at the World Trade Organization (WTO), where member nations will consider a request by LDCs that they be exempt from issuing patents on pharmaceutical products until they graduate from LDC status, as determined by the United Nations.

The representatives who sent the letter include Representatives Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), Jim McDermott (D-Wash.), Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), and Sam Farr (D-Calif.).

In the letter to the United States Trade Representative, Ambassador Michael Froman, the House members wrote:

“The joint LDC request reflects the continuing realities facing LDCs and the extreme burdens that their populations would face absent an extension. As you know, LDCs are the 48 poorest countries in the world. These are countries that often lack even the most basic necessities; only 34 percent of the population in LDC’s have electricity, as opposed to 85 percent worldwide and 100 percent in OECD countries. They represent nearly 13 percent of the world’s population but only about 1 percent of the world’s income, with an average $928 per capita income in 2014. In addition to economic and financial challenges, they lack educational, technological and manufacturing capacity, leaving them unable to respond to the massive health burdens they face.”

Knowledge Ecology International recently eleased a briefing note with additional data on Least Developed Countries, available on our website here: http://keionline.org/sites/default/files/KEI-BN-2015-3-LDC-non-LDC-OECD-comparisons.pdf.

The request for an indefinite waiver on the grant of drug patents for the world’s poorest countries has widespread support, including from the European Union (http://keionline.org/node/2319) and the Vatican (http://keionline.org/node/2244). The Obama administration, however, is attempting to block the indefinite waiver, and is pressuring LDCs to accept restrictive conditions. Several public health and access to medicines groups, including HealthGap, Knowledge Ecology International, Public Citizen, Oxfam and Doctors Without Borders/MSF, sent a letter on Sept. 11 to USTR and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), objecting to the US position on the LDC extension (http://keionline.org/node/2322).

LDC Watch, a group of civil society organizations based in LDCs, sent a letter on Sept. 25, explaining the rationale behind the LDC request and asking that the US offer its full support (http://bit.ly/1MNACW6).

On Sept. 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 Bill Clinton's Executive Order 13115, which protects sub-Saharan African countries’ access to generic HIV/AIDS drugs.

The letter from the members of the House continued:

“If the transitional period is allowed to end on January 1, 2016, we believe those countries will be unable to meet essential health needs, leading to preventable morbidity and mortality as well as global insecurity and poverty. For those reasons, we believe that indefinite waiver of the WTO obligations to grant and enforce pharmaceutical patents is necessary and should be U.S. policy. Waivers should not end based on an arbitrary date but should end only when a country no longer classifies as an LDC under United Nations established criteria. We also believe that the LDC joint submission for a permanent extension clearly meets the WTO requirements that such requests be granted when they are ‘duly motivated.’”

James Love, Director of Knowledge Ecology International, said:

“This is anything but an obscure trade issue. The WTO will decide, fairly shortly, if the poorest countries on earth are exempt from WTO rules on drug patents. These are countries that spend about $50 per capita annually on health care. President Obama is now the main obstacle to a historic agreement to protect nearly one billion persons living in the poorest countries. It is incredible that our government wants to force high drug prices in countries where incomes are less than $4 per day. The Representatives signing this letter are among the few in Congress to recognize the moral and practical reasons why it was a mistake to require poor countries to grant patents on medicines, and among the few who are willing to use their position to protect a vulnerable population. The 48 LDCs include the 34 poorest countries in Africa. In the Western Hemisphere, only Haiti is poor enough to benefit from the drug patent waiver. The request by the LDC group should be a non-controversial measure to correct a historic mistake in the WTO rules. Any effort to limit or narrow the waiver will harm poor people living in countries that cannot pay. It is in no one's interest to make life worse for people people living in LDCs, or health care more expensive, but that is the legacy that Ambassador Michael Froman would embrace, enabled by an anti-poor White House and a technical staff that is more responsive to drug company lobbyists than their own moral compass or common sense. The seven Democrats in the House appreciate the consequence of this trade policy decision, and the vulnerability of persons living in extreme and appalling poverty."

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