Trade Treaties & Access to Medicines: What Does the Evidence Tell Us?

Photo by Pawel Czerwinski via Unsplash.

Intellectual property rights (IPR) provisions have become a staple of modern free trade agreements since the 1995 Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), which set minimum standards for IPR protection for World Trade Organization (WTO) members. TRIPS requires members to provide an intellectual property legal structure encompassing patents, trademarks, copyrights, other provisions such as geographical indications as well as IPR enforcement and dispute resolution. Because implementing an IPR regime – including supporting robust patent protection – may reduce the number of generic medicines available and increase the price of medicines, compliance with the TRIPS requirements has been controversial in low- and middle-income countries concerned about ensuring access to medicines.

A policy brief by Danielle Trachtenberg, Warren A. Kaplan, Veronika J. Wirtz and Kevin P. Gallagher focuses on presenting and understanding the findings from empirical studies that estimate the impact of changes to trade policy on price, consumption, expenditure, availability and other indicators of access to medicines.

Two overarching findings from the policy brief are clear. First, ex-ante studies consistently predict negative impacts from trade-related IPR provisions on price and availability of medicines. Ex-post analyses are largely consistent with ex-ante predictions, but the magnitude of the impacts is smaller than predicted. Second, there is no established analytical framework for undertaking a comprehensive analysis of the effects of trade policy on price, consumption, availability and other indicators.

Read the Policy Brief