By Donald Zuhn --
Yesterday, we reported on two letters sent by two Senators and fifteen Representatives to Michael Froman, the U.S. Trade Representative ("USTR"), seeking clarification regarding the Administration's position on compulsory licenses. The letters were prompted by reports that representatives of the U.S. government may have pressured the Colombian government not to issue a compulsory license for Imatinib, marketed by Novartis as Gleevec® or Glivec. According to a letter sent by three Colombian organizations to a World Health Organization (WHO) working group, "enormous pressure" had been applied by developed countries and pharmaceutical companies to block Colombia from issuing the compulsory license for Imatinib, and resistance to the compulsory license had combined "inaccuracies, distortions of international trade rules and even threats of trade claims under the dispute settlement mechanism."
A letter sent by 28 organizations* to President Obama in May echoed the comments of the two letters from Senate and House legislators. The group, noting that they were "concerned with access to medicines and U.S. aid to support peace in Colombia," expressed "great alarm" about reports that certain U.S. officials may have indicated to the Colombian government that "U.S. aid could be at risk as a result of Colombia's actions to protect public health." The organizations asked the President to "publicly clarify this matter and set the record straight" and also "support both Colombia's efforts to achieve peace and to protect public health." According to the group, the USTR and Senate Finance Committee staff denied threatening funding to Colombia, but "have not denied making it clear that Colombia should not issue the license and could suffer consequences if it does." The organizations stated that:
Opposing trading partners' rights to issue compulsory licenses would be in contradiction with longstanding U.S. policy obligations, and Colombia's issuance of a compulsory license on imatinib would be fully consistent with Colombia's international obligations.
Unfortunately, reports on this matter suggest that not only are congressional and Administration officials attempting to thwart the issuance of such a license, but they are doing so in a way that implies a grave and immoral threat to the people of Colombia.
The group argued that "it is wholly inappropriate, reprehensible, and intolerable for anyone from your Administration or the U.S. Congress to ask Colombia to choose between peace and its people's health," and urged the President "to clarify publicly that no action taken by Colombia towards expanding access to medicines for its people, and specifically regarding the issuance of a compulsory license on imatinib, will affect U.S. support for the peace process in Colombia." The group noted that they have also asked Congress to provide similar clarification.
Taking a position in opposition to the issuance of a compulsory license in Colombia, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce ("USCC") issued a press release last month condemning the Colombian Health Minister's move towards issuance of the compulsorty license for Imatinib. In response to a Declaration of Public Interest released by Colombian Minister of Health, Alejandro Gaviria, the USCC asserted that the Declaration "formally moves Colombia toward stripping the patent [for Imatinib]." According to the USCC, "[e]xperience has shown that compulsory licenses actually restrict the very access and affordability of medicines," and therefore, as a result of the Minister of Health's decision, "no one stands to lose more than Colombia itself." The USCC also argued that "[c]ompulsory licenses directly undermine global innovation by eroding global intellectual property standards and stifling investment." Asserting that the Minister of Health's decision was "inconsistent with Colombia's history as a stable, pro-growth economy," the USCC urged the Colombian government "to abandon this destructive course and reject Minister Gaviria's declaration."
*The 28 organizations signing the letter to President Obama included the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL–CIO); BUKO Pharma-Kampagne; Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good; Center for International Policy; Center for Policy Analysis on Trade and Health (CPATH); Foundation for Integrative AIDS Research (FIAR); Fundacion IFARMA; Health Action International; Health Global Access Project (Health GAP); Institute for Policy Studies, Drug Policy Project; Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights; Just Foreign Policy; Knowledge Ecology International; Latin America Working Group (LAWG); LWC Policy Consulting Inc.; Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns; Mesa de ONGs con Trabajo en VIH/SIDA; Oxfam America; Pax Christi International; Presbyterian Church (USA); Public Citizen; RedLAM; Student Global Access Campaign (SGAC); The Berne Declaration; United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries; Universities Allied for Essential Medicines (UAEM); Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA); and Witness for Peace.