Analyzing the impact of trade and investment agreements on pharmaceutical policy: provisions, pathways and potential impacts

Global Health. 2019 Nov 28;15(Suppl 1):78. doi: 10.1186/s12992-019-0518-2.


Background: Trade and investment agreements negotiated after the World Trade Organization's Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) have included increasingly elevated protection of intellectual property rights along with an expanding array of rules impacting many aspects of pharmaceutical policy. Despite the large body of literature on intellectual property and access to affordable medicines, the ways in which other provisions in trade agreements can affect pharmaceutical policy and, in turn, access to medicines have been little studied. There is a need for an analytical framework covering the full range of provisions, pathways, and potential impacts, on which to base future health and human rights impact assessment and research. A framework exploring the ways in which trade and investment agreements may affect pharmaceutical policy was developed, based on an analysis of four recently negotiated regional trade agreements. First a set of core pharmaceutical policy objectives based on international consensus was identified. A systematic comparative analysis of the publicly available legal texts of the four agreements was undertaken, and the potential impacts of the provisions in these agreements on the core pharmaceutical policy objectives were traced through an analysis of possible pathways.

Results: An analytical framework is presented, linking ten types of provisions in the four trade agreements to potential impacts on four core pharmaceutical policy objectives (access and affordability; safety, efficacy, and quality; rational use of medicines; and local production capacity and health security) via various pathways.

Conclusions: The analytical framework highlights provisions in trade and investment agreements that need to be examined, pathways that should be explored, and potential impacts that should be taken into consideration with respect to pharmaceutical policy. This may serve as a useful checklist or template for health and human rights impact assessments and research on the implications of trade agreements for pharmaceuticals.

Keywords: Access to medicines; CPTPP; Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement; Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement on Trans-Pacific Partnership; Pharmaceutical policy; Pharmaceuticals; TPP-11; TRIPS; Trade agreements; Trans-Pacific Partnership; United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.

MeSH terms

  • Canada
  • Commerce / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Costs and Cost Analysis
  • Health Services Accessibility
  • Humans
  • Intellectual Property
  • International Cooperation / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Investments / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Mexico
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations / economics*
  • Public Policy*
  • United States


  • Pharmaceutical Preparations