Article: Special 301 and Access to Medicine


Since its inception in 1988, the United States Trade Representative’s “Special 301” unilateral adjudication of foreign intellectual property law standards has been used to promote policies restricting access to affordable medications around the world. As President-elect, Obama released a platform promising to “break the stranglehold that a few big drug and insurance companies have on these life-saving drugs” and pledged support for “the rights of sovereign nations to access quality-assured, low-cost generic medication to meet their pressing public health needs.” In this year’s Special 301 hearing process, public health organizations called on the Obama Administration to fulfill its pledge by ending the use of Special 301 and other trade policies to promote TRIPS-Plus intellectual property standards and pharmaceutical deregulation mandates in developing countries. But this demand has been largely ignored. The 2009 and 2010 Special 301 process indicate that the Obama Administration has not yet embraced the global human rights demand for promotion of access to medicines in developing countries. In continuing the same trade policies as its predecessor, it is violating U.S. commitments under the 2001 WTO Doha Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health, the multilateral dispute settlement understanding of the World Trade Organization, numerous World Health Organization resolutions, ethical guidelines of the Declaration of Helsinki, express Congressional policy, Obama Administration pledges, the best interests of the PEPFAR program, the interests of global health and international human rights obligations.

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