Coalition calls on US and Korea Trade Negotiators to prioritize public health over pharma corporations in trade negotiations


A coalition of 16 advocacy organizations in the United States and Korea asked trade negotiators in the U.S. and Korea to reject the demands of the pharmaceutical industry, protect human rights, and prioritize patient access to medicines in its trade negotiations with Korea. Copy of the letter here.

In a submission to the U.S. Trade Representative in advance of the administration’s “Special 301” review of the intellectual property enforcement of other countries, PhRMA, a lobbyist group representing pharmaceutical corporations, asked the Trump administration to declare Korea a “Priority Foreign Country.” This designation is the most serious possible result of the review process, and countries who have been placed on this list in the past have faced consequences including a loss of diplomatic support and threats to trade agreements.

The reason Korea has drawn the ire of the pharmaceutical industry is because it does what many in the United States wish the U.S. government would do – adopt policies to expand access to affordable medicines. Specifically, PhRMA objects to Korea’s recent drug pricing reforms, which include pricing and formularies based on a pharmacoeconomic analysis and single-payer negotiations.

A March 12 letter signed by 16 organizations in the United States and Korea representing patients, physicians, consumer, religion and human rights interests urged trade officials in the United States and Korea to respect the plain meaning of the WTO Doha Declaration on TRIPS and public health, and be supportive of country’s “right to protect public health and, in particular, to promote access to medicines for all.” In particular, the letter opposes the demands by PhRMA to cite Korea for and modify its recent pricing reforms under the Korea Drug Expenditure Rationalization Plan (DERP). The letter also opposed various TRIPS plus measures in the ongoing renegotiation of the U.S.-Korea free trade agreement, KORUS.

The organizations point out that PhRMA is lobbying to keep and even provisions in KORUS that harm the public’s access to health care, in both Korea and in the U.S.

Andrew Goldman, counsel for Knowledge Ecology International, a human rights group, offered the following comment on the letter:

“In their submission to USTR, PhRMA wants both Korea and the United States to agree on measures that will, going forward, hamstring both governments in their efforts to negotiate prices on new drugs. What PhRMA wants is best for their own shareholders, but will predictably lead to barriers and financial hardships for patients, and drain scarce resources from health care budgets. Trump was elected on promises to cut the costs of new drugs, not to make things worse.”

A list of the organizations signing the letter is as follows.

United States (6)
Franciscan Action Network
Health GAP
Knowledge Ecology International (KEI)_
NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice
People of Faith for Access to Medicines (PFAM)
Union for Affordable Cancer Treatment (UACT)

Korea (10)
Association of Korea Doctors for Health Rights
Association of Physicians for Humanism
Center for Health and Social Change (CHSC)
Knowledge Commune
Korea Dentists Association for Health Society
Korean Federation of Medical Groups for Health Rights (KFHR)
Korean Pharmacists for Democratic Society
Korean Progressive Network/Jinbonet
Solidarity for Worker’s Health

Kim Treanor