Obama-ization of the Special 301 Report

The United States Trade Representative (USTR) is holding public hearings with respect to this year’s Special 301 Report. This hearing will allow interested persons to testify before the interagency IPR team. Interested parties including foreign governments wishing to testify at the hearing have been asked to submit a request to testify and a short hearing statement. The hearings are scheduled to be held in March. USTR will also be creating a Special 301 website with links to current and historical information about the review. The USTR is planning to take more steps to increase participation by public interest groups and foreign countries. Click here for the press release.

One must note that this will be the first time that live public hearings are being held as part of the investigation process towards the preparation of the Special 301 Report. Oral testimony before the Committee is however limited to a mere five minute presentation by the interested party and five minutes for questions from the Committee.

The Special 301 mechanism was created by the Omnibus Trade and Competitiveness Act of 1988. The Report prepares a watch list of countries without “adequate and effective” intellectual property protection. It has been consistently criticised for championing the commercial interests of the multinational pharmaceutical industries and for having scant regard towards developing countries (Click here for a post on the 2007 Report). Previously the Priority Lists were prepared based on the submissions of two organisations namely; PhRMA and the International Intellectual Property Alliance. As has been discussed here, public health groups in the United States lobbied the Obama administration in 2009 to keep Thailand off the Special 301 list. Thailand had been included for issuing compulsory licenses on patented drugs. Thailand was however subsequently included in the 2009 list to the utter disappointment of public health groups. USTR defended the inclusion of Thailand by saying that public health groups had made no submissions in this regard to the Committee. The public health groups in response to this pointed out that there was no mechanism to make formal submissions. It has been pointed out that this probably precipitated the policy change in the USTR.

The effectiveness of this procedure however remains to be seen and most interestingly we would like to wait and watch if public health groups will make any difference in the report with the help of this procedure.

Image from here.

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