Implications of Trade and Investment Agreements for Access to Affordable Medicines and the Right to Health

Vancouver, Canada. Photo by Matt Hanns Schroeter via Unsplash.

Lack of access to affordable medicines is an ongoing problem for much of the world’s population, undermining the right to health in international law. Rules incorporated into trade and investment agreements increasingly exacerbate this problem by delaying the market entry of cheaper generic medicines, placing constraints on pharmaceutical pricing and reimbursement programs, and providing pharmaceutical companies with rights to claim damages in international tribunals if a policy or law harms their investments.

An article by Deborah Gleeson and Lisa Forman featured in the Canadian Yearbook of Human Rights, Vol. II describes how these issues have played out in the negotiation of several trade agreements. The authors also discuss methods and tools available to assess the health and human rights implications of  trade agreements as well as explore contemporary challenges and opportunities for ensuring that trade and investment agreements prioritize and respect affordable access to medicines.

The authors determine that trade agreements, through a variety of mechanisms, can make it more difficult for states to meet their human rights obligations and provide affordable access to medicines. Recent and current negotiations for complex “mega-regional” free trade agreements with expanded intellectual property rights, investor state dispute-settlements and prescriptive rules for pharmaceutical coverage have created additional challenges. The authors advocate for a concerted and sustained effort by health and human rights advocates working in partnership with researchers, non-government organizations and communities.

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