Demanding assurance that their countries would be better off agreeing to enter Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) with the European Union (EU), African finance and trade ministers have insisted that the development dimension must be comprehensively addressed in the deals. In a declaration on the negotiations, the ministers also urged the negotiators to ensure that EPAs take into consideration the coherence between trade and development dimensions as well as Africa's regional integration efforts. After a one-day joint meeting, convened by the African Union Commission (AUC) to give political guidance on pressing issues in the areas of trade and development in relation to the EPAs, the ministers noted that the interim deals with the European Commission (EC) were contentious on a number of issues, including the definition of substantially all trade, transitional periods, export taxes, free circulation of goods, national treatment, bilateral safeguards and the non-exclusion clause.
Health equity in economic and trade policies
The struggle to make medicines affordable to the world’s poor, especially in Africa, is raging on at the highest levels. Last week the European Commission took a landmark decision on generic drugs and next week a high-level intergovernmental meeting will look at ways to prevent patents from blocking access to drugs.
The 72nd World Health Assembly (WHA) of health ministers in May 2019 adopted the resolution on “Improving the transparency of markets for medicines, vaccines, and other health products” in what is considered as a first step to improve the transparency on medicine pricing and other factors impacting prices such as clinical trial costs. The resolution urges the WHO Member States in accordance with their national and regional legal frameworks and contexts to take appropriate measures to publicly share information on the net prices of health products. Further, the resolution urges Member States to take measures to disclose the net price i.e. the price received by the manufacturer instead of the price paid by the government or customers. The resolution requires that costs from human subject clinical trials, regardless of outcomes, be made publicly available or be voluntarily provided. Further, the resolution provides a clear mandate to the WHO Secretariat to “analyse the availability of data on inputs throughout the value chain, including on clinical trial data and price information”. Unlike the initial draft, first proposed by Italy and then supported by a group of countries, the resolution does not create any responsibility on the part of Member States to ensure transparency on R&D cost and clinical trial cost. TWN report that the debate on the resolution brought out out the division within Europe between the countries with pharmaceutical industry such as Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Sweden and Denmark on the one hand, and countries that do not have strong pharmaceutical industry such as Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, Austria and Norway. The USA supported the resolution, stating the commitment of the Trump Administration’s initiative to legislate to ensure competition in the pharmaceutical market through transparency in pricing. Though the resolution was adopted by consensus i.e. without any objection from the Member States, Germany, Hungary and the UK stated their disassociation from the resolution at the WHA plenary.
The World Trade Organisation (WTO) has proposed a new plan to unlock global trade talks that have stalled over farm subsidies in rich countries and reluctance by poor nations to further open their markets for Western goods and services without reciprocation from industrialised nations. But analysts who studied the new text warned that it still leaves rich countries' trade protections largely intact, while giving poor nations little in return.
On October 10, the World Bank met for its Annual General Meeting in Washington DC. Around the world, in 12 cities, people came out to protest against the Bank’s Doing Business rankings. 'WorldvsBank', a global campaign asked the Bank to dump the Doing Business Rankings that only serve big business. The World Bank’s Doing Business ranking gives points to countries when they act in favor of the “ease of doing business.” This is argued by the campaign to smooth the way for corporations’ activity by, for instance, cutting administrative procedures, lowering corporate taxes, removing environmental and social regulations, or lowering trade barriers. The ranking system is also argued to encourage land reforms that tend to make land just a marketable commodity, easily accessible to wealthy corporations, in process neglecting human rights, the protection of workers, and the sustainable use of natural resources.
What influence, if any, do the BRICS (Brazil, India, Russia, China and South Africa) wield in global health, and, if they do wield influence, how has that influence been conceptualised and recorded in the literature? To answer these questions, researchers conducted a systematic international literature review, finding 887 documents, of which only seven met inclusion criteria and only one provided sustained analysis of the BRICS’ collective influence; the overwhelming tendency was to describe individual BRICS countries’ influence. Although influence was predominantly framed by BRICS countries’ material capability, there were examples of institutional and ideological influence, particularly from Brazil. Individual BRICS countries were primarily ‘opportunity seekers’ and regional mobilisers but with potential to become ‘issue leaders’ and regional organisers. Whilst it may still be too early for newly emerging economies in global health to have matured, the authors argue that there is scope to further develop the concept of influence in global health and to better understand the working of groups of countries such as BRICS. The BRICS have made a number of important commitments towards reforming global health, but they need to start putting those collective commitments into action, the authors conclude.
Kenya and Tanzania have recently passed anti-counterfeit laws and regulations that risk blocking legitimate generic medicines instead of fake products, which is the purported purpose of these laws. Uganda is now considering a similar bill. Like the other East African legal provisions, Uganda's draft bill defines counterfeiting in such a way as to criminalise manufacturers and importers of safe, high-quality generic medication. Critics say Uganda already has adequate legislation against fake products. To explain what is spurring the adoption of these new laws on intellectual property rights, intellectual property rights expert, Sisule Musungu, points to the politics of global trade. In this interview, he notes: '…Intellectual property rights don't guarantee quality or certification of quality. And that is why talking about quality and intellectual property does not add up because they are two different things: the latter confers rights to intellectual property owners and has nothing to do with the quality of products.'
International health and AIDS activists are up in arms over the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) pre-Hong Kong approval of a controversial amendment to its intellectual property agreement, saying it will limit access to affordable medicines for the neediest countries - those that have little or no pharmaceutical production base. Activists say the amendment, approved on 6 December, is proof that the WTO has ignored those with expertise on public health and intellectual property, and buckled under the pressure of big pharmaceutical companies, who supported the amendment.
According to a 2015 report by the South African Human Rights Commission, South Africa’s burgeoning illicit gold trade has been fuelled by the formal mining industry’s decline combined with the failure of government to regulate the informal mining sector. The report estimated 30,000 illegal miners were operating across South Africa; about 75% are believed to be undocumented migrants, primarily from Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Lesotho. The authors indicate that hundreds have died due to collapsing mine shafts, gas explosions and turf wars between the criminal syndicates that have seized control of the illegal industry. On Johannesburg’s outskirts, cut off from support networks and services, women are bearing the brunt of the violence and lawlessness associated with illicit mining. With the vast majority of people in the area living off the proceeds of illicit mining, fear of arrest or deportation prevents many women from going to the police or seeking help at overstretched local medical clinics.
This paper posits that the International Trading System (ITS) is biased in favour of richer northern states. It argues that greater circumspection is required by developing countries within the ITS if they want to maintain their sovereign right to meet the needs of their people. The inequitable system of “globalisation” is imposed through the ideology of neo-liberalism, which the developed countries present as a “natural” form of globalisation. It is a very particular type of globalisation that is being imposed on the world by the major economic powers, i.e. neo- liberal globalisation. This form of globalisation has worsened material conditions in developing countries.