The policy case for a Trade in Healthcare Agreement

Trade & Manufacturing

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In the wake of the covid-19 pandemic, strengthening global health security has emerged as a core theme of multilateral policymaking. Covid-19 has embedded health security – including our ability to deliver emergency medical countermeasures rapidly on a global scale - firmly in our concept of global security. 

This GC insight paper seeks to draw lessons from the pandemic experience and suggests concrete steps in which World Trade Organization (WTO) Members might use the global trading system to better equip the world to respond to the next health crisis. In doing this it draws on the under-reported deliberations of WTO Members themselves, many of whom have provided thoughtful post-crisis critiques in Geneva of the way the trading system might learn from covid-19. Yet in the wider public debate this analysis has too often simply been reduced to a debate about intellectual property rights. This paper seeks to amplify that deeper reflection. 

The 13th WTO Ministerial Conference (MC13) in early 2024 is an important opportunity to put the WTO at the service of global health security. MC12 failed to produce binding commitments to pandemic response. The next Ministerial should not reproduce this failure. The policy space and opportunity still exist to translate the loose principles that emerged at MC12 - and have been debated since in Geneva - into binding commitments at MC13. Despite the parallel and intense negotiations at the World Health Organization to deliver a Pandemic Accord, there is no similar effort among WTO Members. Using the convening power of February’s ministerial to explore the potential for a plurilateral Trade in Healthcare Agreement amongst like-minded Members is an appropriate place to start.  

Funding for this GC insight was provided by Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. Global Counsel retained full editorial control.  


The views expressed in this note can be attributed to the named author(s) only.