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US applies pressure on Canada to stem cross-border generics flow

Published on 30/04/18 at 09:43am

The US has upped the ante against Canada to secure stronger border checks for pharmaceutical goods by adding the country to the ‘Priority Watch List’.

The news came as the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) released a Special 301 report on intellectual property rights. Within the report, it shifted Canada from the ‘Watch List’ to the more severe ‘Priority Watch List’.

Its stated reasons were: “Key concerns include poor border enforcement generally and, in particular, lack of customs authority to inspect or detain suspected counterfeit or pirated goods shipped through Canada, concerns about IP protections and procedures related to pharmaceuticals, deficient copyright protection, and inadequate transparency and due process regarding the protection of geographical indications.”

The aim would be to crack down on those looking to bring cheaper, generic versions of drugs across the border into the US.

Bernie Sanders achieved a certain notoriety in the 1990s for taking bus-loads of citizens from Vermont into Canada in order to fill prescriptions and return to the US, in order to highlight the price disparity between the two nations.

There is now also a growing momentum, on a state-wide basis, to look at importing prescription drugs from Canada as a means of reducing healthcare spend.

This growing momentum to rely on Canada for more affordable treatments is something that the US administration is looking to crack down on, under influence by the pharma industry that has complained about the practice for years.

The move to add Canada to the priority watch list comes amid talks over the North American Free Trade Agreement and the future of the trade deal. Adding Canada to this priority watch list, which also includes China, Colombia and India, could be another means of placing pressure on the nation to better conform to US’ desires for the agreement.

“This report sends a clear signal to our trading partners that the protection of Americans’ intellectual property rights is a top priority of the Trump Administration,” USTR’s Robert Lighthizer said in a statement.

Ben Hargreaves

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