Since 2011, a number of countries have been negotiating international trade agreements, either through the World Trade Organization (WTO) or under bilateral (country to country)  Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) or Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreements (TPPAs).  These trade-related barriers can have significant impact on access to affordable medicines.

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Pharmaceutical companies, who want to protect the profits they make from patented drugs, will try to use these negotiations as a way to enforce the TRIPS agreement and introduce new restrictions on making and trading generic medicines. 

In 2005 intellectual property legislation was introduced into international trading systems. The legislation is called Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). It protects the rights of pharmaceutical companies to patent their drugs and it prohibits generic drug companies from manufacturing drugs that are under patent. Because the TRIPS agreement was going to have such a major impact on the generic drug industry, developing countries, such as India, were given 10 years to comply with the law.

Advocates have already begun to demand that all international trade agreements under the WTO and FTAs allow large-scale production and export of generic lifesaving medicines under voluntary or compulsory licensing. A compulsory license is a government license that enables someone other than the patent holder (usually the pharmaceutical company) to copy patented products and processes without fear of prosecution. An agreement was made by members of the WTO in 2001 called "The Doha Declaration on TRIPS and Public Health" which allows countries to issue compulsory licenses for drugs that are essential for addressing a public health emergency.

These new FTAs represent a real threat to the progress that has been made lowering the price of drugs and scaling-up treatment. Before 2001, triple combination ARV therapy cost between $10,000 and $15,000 per patient per year. Today, because of the introduction of generics and the use of compulsory licensing, the most widely used ARV drug combination is available for US$88 per patient per year. 

 

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