Japan’s Emerging Role in the Global Pharmaceutical Intellectual Property Regime: A Tale of Two Trade Agreements

Tokyo, Japan. Photo by Daryan Shamkhali via Unsplash.

Japan’s recent role in promoting the expansion of intellectual property rights (IPR) in regional trade agreements signals a shift in the landscape once dominated by the United States (US) and European Union (EU). Japan was a latecomer to the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) but has played a key role in attempting to revive the agreement following the US withdrawal in 2017. The final text of the TPP mandated expanded IPR that were predicted to delay the market entry of cheaper generic medicines in several countries. Potential IP protections in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership agreement (RCEP) in the Asia Pacific region were also predicted to impact access to medicines on a global scale.

A journal article in The Journal of World Intellectual Property by Belinda Townsend, Deborah Gleeson and Ruth Lopert explores Japan’s role in reshaping the global pharmaceutical IP regime. The authors examine its positions on the expansion of IPR in negotiations for the TPP and the RCEP. 

Through a systematic analysis of leaked negotiating texts documenting Japan’s position on key issues, the authors demonstrate Japan is playing a pivotal role in promoting the adoption of expanded IPRs. Japan’s position as IPR champion in the Asia Pacific region reflects a domestic strategy initiated in 2013 to bolster pharmaceutical export growth. Drawing on past experience and focusing on the RCEP negotiations, the authors explore ways in which low- and middle- income countries (LMICs) might respond to this shift in order to promote access to medicines. LMICs are best placed to maintain a position that centers the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and reflects the different economic and social needs of negotiating countries.

Read the Journal Article