Rethinking Trade Treaties & Access to Medicines: Toward a Policy-Oriented Research Agenda

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Since the establishment of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1994 that brought intellectual property rules into the global trading regime via the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), there has been a concern that the trading regime would globalize the monopolies created by patent rights and therefore make it more difficult for low- and middle-income countries to ensure access to essential medicines for all those in need. Trading partners from high-income countries continue to pursue bilateral and regional trade agreements that seek intellectual property and investment protections beyond what is required by the TRIPS Agreement (TRIPS-plus).

The Boston University Global Development Policy (GDP) Center convened a working group of 13 global experts with the goal to develop a policy-oriented research agenda to strengthen the ability of nation-states to implement policies for universal access to medicines at the national level. The working group reviewed key evidence on the implementation and evaluation of trade treaties on access to medicines, collaborated on identifying knowledge gaps and proposed a research agenda.

In an inaugural report, the working group identified three gaps in current research on trade and access to medicines: a lack of analysis of treaty provisions and language, rigorous empirical studies and analysis of political economy factors. They also propose the creation of a best practice research guide and a “global access data commons” for researchers to more easily draw associations between indicators. To carry out the research necessary to address the current knowledge gaps requires multidisciplinary research spanning health economics, law, political science and public health. It also benefits from the co-creation of research with those involved in the negotiation and implementation of trade treaties and feedback from civil society, government officials and industry representatives.

Read the Report