U.S. trade policy must prioritize American biopharmaceutical innovation and patient access

Douglas Petersen
Douglas Petersen November 2, 2020

U.S. trade policy must prioritize American biopharmaceutical innovation and patient access.

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As the United States biopharmaceutical industry works around the clock to develop vaccines and treatments for COVID-19, it’s more important than ever that international trade policies facilitate patient access to innovative medicines. The pandemic has shed additional light on unsustainable barriers that threaten availability, research and development of much-needed treatments and cures.

In its recent National Trade Estimate Report on Foreign Trade Barriers (NTE) submission to the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR), PhRMA outlines debilitating market access, intellectual property, and other trade barriers imposed by dozens of governments across the globe. PhRMA strongly urges USTR and the U.S. government more broadly to take action to address and dismantle these barriers, including inadequate intellectual property protection and enforcement in China, Mexico and Saudi Arabia and damaging pricing and reimbursement policies in Australia, Canada, Japan, Korea and many countries in Europe. Tackling these foreign trade barriers would level the playing field for American scientists and manufacturers and could add billions of dollars to research and development for new medicines.

Government policies that value innovation and protect intellectual property are essential to support an international trade environment that facilitates global access to innovative medicines. In contrast, discriminatory measures, refusal to operate according to market-based principles and failure to comply with international commitments significantly impede patient access to existing medicines and invention by American companies of new medicines.

To address these pressing challenges and ensure that U.S. biopharmaceutical innovators can continue to research, develop and deliver new treatments and cures, PhRMA urges USTR and other federal agencies to take the following five actions: (1) enforce and defend global, regional, and bilateral rules; (2) secure strong commitments in global, regional, and bilateral negotiations; (3) end discrimination in pricing and reimbursement; (4) combat the worldwide proliferation of counterfeit medicines; and (5) build and strengthen global cooperation.

In taking these actions, the U.S. government should capitalize on a variety of trade policy tools at its disposal, including not only the NTE, but also effective utilization of the Special 301 Report, the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) program and other reports and programs of the United States. In addition, USTR should pursue a variety of enforcement initiatives, including – but not limited to – the filing of dispute settlement cases to ensure that U.S. trading partners comply with their international trade and investment commitments. Finally, the U.S. government should create and fill key positions, such as the USTR Chief Innovation and Intellectual Property Negotiator.

Swift action by the United States is necessary to prevent irreversible harm to innovation and patient access worldwide. Given the state of global health both with respect to COVID-19 and other urgent issues the need for U.S. trade policy to prioritize American biopharmaceutical innovation has never been more pressing.

Topics: Trade, Coronavirus