30+ Civil Society Orgs to USTR: Stop Threatening to Block Colombia’s OECD Accession over Pharma/Biotech Lobby Interests


A broad international coalition of over 30 human rights organizations, including some across the United States and Latin America, have come together to ensure that providing access to health care doesn’t come at the expense of the health of the Colombian economy.

Colombia is trying to join the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), but recent efforts to expand access to affordable medicines in the country have led to objections from powerful US based interest groups and the U.S. government itself. Specifically, Colombia has been targeted for exploring a compulsory license for the cancer drug Gleevec (Glivec in Colombia) before opting for a unilateral price reduction, and for its biosimilar pathway, among other legal and regulatory efforts. Colombia’s Ministry of Health is also currently considering a civil society request for compulsory licenses on expensive HCV medicines

These special interests have reached the office of the United States Trade Representative and U.S. Chamber of Commerce, who have been pressuring Colombia to yield to the interests of pharmaceutical companies if it wishes to join the OECD. In a February 14 letter from the US Trade Representative, Ambassador Robert Lighthizer, to Colombia’s Minister of Trade, Industry and Tourism Maria Lorena Gutiérrez, Lighthizer said that the USTR expected Colombia to reach out to pharmaceutical industry “stakeholders” with a “focused and sustained outreach and listening campaign” before the U.S. would provide a positive opinion on the country’s OECD membership status.

Andrew S. Goldman, counsel for policy & legal affairs for Knowledge Ecology International, said:

This is at least the second time that big drug companies have recently sought to link unrelated policies to drug prices, in order to make U.S. foreign policy an arm of the drug industry. Our relationship with Colombia, and solidarity with the people of Colombia, should not be defined by the interests of the pharmaceutical industry and its neverending quest for higher and higher prices on life-extending and life-saving medicines.

Andrea Carolina Reyes Rojas, of Misión Salud, Colombia, offered the following statement:

Colombia’s efforts to increase access to medicines are entirely aligned with the country’s commitment with the achievement of Universal Health Coverage (goal 3.8 of SDG’s) and with the country’s obligation to protect, respect and fulfill the human right to health as it is recognized in international agreements (CESCR General Comment No. 14, Paragraph 33) and in domestic laws. As citizens we have encouraged these efforts for a long time and understand that being part of the OECD would mean having a wider and stronger policy that favors access to medicines, since that organization promotes policies “that will improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world.” We consider it imperative that the USTR listens and understands the importance of the call of the UNHLP on Access to Medicines and, as a consequence, stops placing political and economic pressure on governments to forego the use of TRIPS flexibilities and starts to be a voice that prioritizes health of people worldwide.

OECD membership would give Colombia a voice in negotiations with powerful countries representing a majority of the global market. The organization provides a forum for governments to work together to solve common problems, and to set standards that could become policy recommendations to all member countries. Crucial to Colombia’s economy, OECD membership makes a country far more attractive to potential investors.

Rather than punish Colombia for prioritizing access to care over the interests of pharmaceutical corporations, the efforts of Colombia to expand access to affordable medicines should be an example for OECD member states.

Leonardo Palumbo, US Advocacy Adviser, Access Campaign at Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), offered the following comment:

USTR’s threat to stand in the way of Colombia’s OECD accession is the latest example of inappropriate pressure by the US government at the behest of pharmaceutical corporations—pressure that is helping companies and hurting people in need of lifesaving medicines. Colombia shouldn’t have to answer to the US or pharma for using legal measures permitted by international trade rules to address the public health needs of its citizens. At a time when high drug prices are a barrier globally, the US should be encouraging, not undermining, countries taking steps to help people afford the medicines they need to live healthy and productive lives.

The coalition urges the USTR to stop promoting the interests of pharmaceutical corporations at the expense of people’s health and Colombia’s legal rights to increase access to affordable medicines.

Peter Maybarduk, Director of Public Citizen’s Access to Medicines program, said:

It is a serious mistake to believe, as President Trump claims, that higher drug prices abroad lead to lower prices at home. The Trump Administration blames high U.S. medicine prices on other countries. But the only effective means of lowering medicine prices at home is to lower medicine prices at home. Washington pressure on other countries to raise medicine prices could lead to the deaths of many, while missing an historic opportunity to make medicines affordable for everyone.

Traducción de la prensa en español: Más de 30 organizaciones de la sociedad civil al USTR_


Traducción en Español: Civil-Society-Letter-to-USTR-re-Colombia-OECD-March20-2018-SpanishVersion