Global trade and intellectual property are at a crossroads. In a time when multilateral consensus is languishing on a large number of issues, the Trump administration is considering pulling the U.S. out of most free trade agreements on the ground that it needs a more favourable environment for its companies and its people. Much will be written about the carnage as far as jobs, wages and national sovereignty that the current American onslaught on trade deals brings to the fore. Here, I focus on a critical issue — how trade deals are becoming the new Trojan horse to ensure stronger patent protection and continued profits to global companies.
Problem with trade deals
A bit about the historical trajectory of events. The Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) embodied an international regulatory regime for the first time, in 1995. Although it represented a major compromise for most developing countries, it was only the starting point for many other nations, which have since then promoted excessive protection of private investor interests through bilateral trade agreements, often at the expense of wider public interests. Corporate libertarians, riding high on increased market power, continue to lobby their governments for absolute protection of intellectual property (IP) rights of corporations.
For the U.S. in particular, which has never made any qualms about the importance of its domestic corporate interests, trade agreements are a prime vehicle to supplant its strong domestic standards of IP protection in partner countries, in a bid to ensure the same level of privileges for its companies abroad. Over the past 20 years, the American strategy has been a neat one: to pursue bilateral agreements with individual countries one by one to ensure stronger IP protection across markets, by sidestepping the multilateral regime.
Gaming the system
In an inter-connected and highly globalised world, what goes around comes around quite fast and…