TWN Info Service on Health Issues (Apr16/01)
6 April 2016
Third World Network

US business launches campaign against UNHLP
Published in SUNS #8215 dated 6 April 2016

Geneva, 5 Apr (D. Ravi Kanth) -- After scuttling globally-beneficial obligations for sharing the latest technologies to combat climate change in the recent Paris agreement, the powerful US industry and business lobbies have now launched another major campaign to undermine the United Nations High Level Panel on Access to Medicines (UNHLP), according to a letter accessed by the SUNS.

In a letter addressed to Senator Orrin Hatch, the chair for the US Senate Committee on Finance, a fortnight ago, six leading American industry and business lobbies demanded an "effective inter-agency approach" which was adopted by the US delegation in the Paris climate talks to other UN initiatives, particularly the UN High Level Panel on Access to Medicines.

The UNHLP was formed by the UN Development Program (UNDP) in November 2015.

The six American lobbies include the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO), National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), National Foreign Trade Council (NFTC), the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), the US Chamber of Commerce (the Chamber), and the United States Council for International Business (USCIB).

They cited the "effective inter-agency approach" under the leadership of the US State Department to "secure a final UNFCCC (UN Framework Convention on Climate Change) text that does not mention IP (intellectual property) and thus removes uncertainty that could have discouraged investments by the US companies in clean technology."

Under the dubious argument of safeguarding innovation and "maintaining the ability of US innovators to develop and disseminate solutions to society's great challenges," which is a euphemism for ensuring the most burdensome and onerous intellectual property commitments, the US lobbies maintained that "significant challenges to IP still remain in the Paris Agreement's implementation and subsequent negotiations - especially those related to the technology development and transfer chapter."

In the face of proliferating challenges to the IP protection within the UN system, the American lobbies want the administration to continue to adopt the inter-agency approach to jettison the UN High Level Panel on Access to Medicines (UNHLP).

The UNHLP is tasked to "remedy the policy incoherence between justifiable rights of inventors, international human rights law, trade rules and public health in the context of health technologies."

Coming at a time when the disease burden is multiplying in developing and poorest countries, which are unable to combat the most deadly cancer-related and other diseases because of the IP provisions, the UNHLP has its task cut out.

It is jointly chaired by the former Swiss President Ms Ruth Dreifuss and the former President of Botswana Mr Fetus Gontebanye Mogae.

Ms Dreifuss is respected all over the world for her sustained campaign against Novartis which refused to accept India's first compulsory licence for Glivec cancer drug on public health grounds. Mr Mogae provided the leadership in tackling the HIV problem by ensuring anti-retroviral treatment to its citizens in Botswana.

Along with these two eminent chairs, the UNHLP also includes several panel members drawn from the government, industry, public health institutions, and non-governmental groups.

The members include Mr Andrew Witty, the former chief executive officer of GlaxoSmithKline, Ms Sakiko Fukuda-Parr, a development economist, Mr Awn Al-Khasawneh, the former prime minister of Jordan, Mr Celso Amorim, the former foreign minister of Brazil, Ms Winnie Byanyima, the executive director of Oxfam, Mr Shiba Phurailatpam, a living HIV patient and activist, Ms Malebona Precious Matsoso, the director-general in the Health Department of the Government of South Africa, Mr Yusuf Hamied, the executive chairman of the leading generic drug company Cipla, Mr Michael Kiry, a retired Australian judge, Ms Ruth Okediji, a law professor at Minnesota University Law School, Mr Gorge Bermudez, a former head of UNITAID, Ms Kinga Goncz, a law professor from Hungary, Ms Maria C. Freire, the executive director of the US Foundation for the National Institutes of Health, and Mr Stephen Lewis, an official of the advocacy organization AIDS-Free World.

The American business lobbies are on a warpath because the panel includes a range of people with different backgrounds and experiences and it might adopt a genuine inquiry into the policy incoherence that is responsible for denying humanitarian remedies.

"We are concerned, however, that the UNHLP process will not provide for an informed, balanced, and inclusive dialogue that adequately incorporates the perspectives of innovators," the six US business lobbies claimed.

Casting aspersions on the selection process of the panel, the business lobbies raised vicious charges that the panel will not be able to assess "the complex issues impacting the development and deployment of health-related technologies."

"Based on the lack of balance evident in the background and views of Panel and advisory group members, as well as the lack of important context about the value of intellectual property in the Panel's supporting documents, it is unfortunately likely that the result of this process, while perhaps well-intentioned, will be ill-informed," the US business lobbies vehemently maintained.

The American lobbies also downgraded work done by the World Health Organization, the UN specialized agency on health, with its Framework for Engagement with Non-State Actors (FENSA) as well as in the UN's global Technology Facilitation Mechanism.

In short, "inter-governmental organizations that are discriminatory towards business, or that focus on a limited range of factors potentially inhibiting innovation deployment, undermine evidence-based policy-making and hobble the delivery of solutions to healthcare and other sustainability challenges," the US business lobbies claimed.

The continued crusade against "inter-governmental organizations" by the US lobbies is not something new.

Whenever any panel is formed at an inter-governmental organization, the US business lobbies go into the overkill to ensure that the panel members are tainted if they adopt genuinely people-, development-centered positions.

Time and time again the American negotiators ensured that their heavily-subsidized innovators continued to reap monopoly profits at the cost of worsening global epidemics and climate change problems.

The US administration also adopted similar tactics in the global trade negotiations in which it has aggressively ensured that the developmental concerns of the developing countries are trumped by the concerns of their egregiously subsidized farm groups.

The US led the efforts to try to dismantle the Doha Development Agenda (DDA) trade negotiations in Nairobi over three months ago. It is an open secret that the DDA negotiations stood in the way of Washington's pursuit of perpetuating inequities and distortions stemming from the previous Uruguay Round of trade negotiations.

Unless the developing and poorest countries adopt common positions to secure credible and developmental outcomes for addressing global challenges, they will continue to face defeat after defeat in crafting major international agreements. Invariably, it is a battle between the profits-centered American positions on the one side, and life-and-death survival concerns of poor countries on the other, according to several developing country envoys. +