Australia’s Policy on Medicines Policy in International Forums: Intellectual Property Protection and Public Health

Queensland, Australia. Photo by Borderpolar Photographer via Unsplash.

Universal access to affordable medicines depends on national legislation that is constrained by a range of international agreements. Tensions and contradictions between industry profitability and health objectives characterize debates on access, innovation and regulation. The Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS) Agreement in 1995 contributed to a gradual strengthening of intellectual property (IP) protections, which increased cost barriers to medicines for consumers and the cost burden on national health systems. Countries have since been pressured to adopt IP protections in excess of the TRIPS agreement and tensions have continued to grow between public health and IP protections.

A journal article in the Journal of Australian Political Economy by David G. Legge, Deborah H. Gleeson, Hans Löfgren and Belinda Townsend explains the role of the Australian government in three forums where international norms and agreements affecting the pricing, innovation and regulation of medicines have been negotiated: the World Health Organization (WHO), the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP).

The authors find that in the WHO, Australia has failed to support a role for the organization in encouraging developing countries to adopt legislation which takes full advantage of flexibilities under the TRIPS Agreement. With respect to the ACTA, Australia supported attempts to establish a reinforced IP enforcement regime, with the expectation developing countries would eventually be forced to join. Overall, Australia has consistently supported the agenda for stronger IP protections and has been opposed to the WHO playing a role in promoting trade and health policy coherence. The authors call for closer monitoring of Australia’s official position in negotiations and stronger demand for policies informed by public health objectives and development solidarity.

Read the Journal Article