July 22, 2021
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The Protocol on Intellectual Property Rights with the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) aims to protect Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).

TRIPS range from trademarks and copyrights to patents. Once negotiated, the AfCTFA’s Intellectual Property (IP) protocol rules will be implemented and enforced by the local governments.

IP rights in trade agreements can cause concern, particularly the rights relating to medicine.

Access to cheaper generic drugs is blocked when pharmaceutical companies secure long durations for patents. According to the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC)estimates, the cost of life-saving medicines could increase from US$132 to US$15 000 yearly for patent-protected drugs.

Provisions in bilaterals generally include longer patent periods that lengthen the periods before the production of generic products can start. The effect of such reinforced provisions has been reduced access to medicines as a result of price increases due to the replacement of cheaper generic drugs by expensive patented drugs. Bilaterals may also include provisions on data exclusivity and on testing data, which means that such data cannot be used to test the security of generics and therefore that costly tests will have to be undertaken by the generics producers, which further increases the price of the medication. For example, the US-Peru agreement includes a provision on data exclusivity, which is estimated to be more than double the cost of the medicines concerned.

~ Source: ITUC Trade Union Guide to Bilaterals 

Vulnerable sectors and jobs must also be taken into consideration when negotiating the AfCFTA’s Protocol on IP. The ITUC notes the potential restrictions on the rights of local players such as farmers and rural workers in the process.

Countries can do two things to safeguard the interests of citizens: First, have a strong understanding of intellectual property clauses before signing. Second, avoid providing investment protection at the cost of local industries.

The Trade Union Response

What do we need to look out for, deliberate and demand?

To prepare for the coming negotiations on the Protocol on Intellectual Property Rights, trade unions should engage the following issues:

  1. Through allowing intellectual property rights protection, who will be protected and who could face harm?
  2. Could my country become subject to pressure from rights holders?
  3. What will the direct implications be for the implementation of the Decent Work Agenda?

Trade unions have the opportunity to advocate for the broader communities when advocating for adequate intellectual property rights in the AfCFTA agreement. Without affordable generic medicines, millions of people could suffer.

Embracing the concerns of both workers and the vulnerable in communities can earn more support for trade union campaigns and express the movement’s desire for a just transition within the AfCFTA.

The AfCFTA features six other protocols namely; competitiontrade in goodstrade in services, dispute settlement, investment and E-commerce.

Read:

Why it pays to link products to places – and how countries in Africa can do it