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Pharmaceutical Dreams

May 17, 2018

New working paper: ‘Pharmaceutical Dreams: TRIPS and Drugs Policy in Bangladesh

If Bangladesh leaves the UN least developed country (LDC) category in coming years as expected, the country may among other things lose access to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) waiver which exempts LDCs from obligations related to pharmaceutical patents. If so, this could affect the industrial policy which has driven pharmaceuticals growth until now. This paper outlines the implications of the waiver and its relationship to industrial policy, showing that the waiver has helped support Bangladesh’s rapid pharmaceuticals export growth of recent years. Using an analysis of official documentation, existing studies and UN Comtrade export data from official government sources, cross-referenced with mirror data, the paper shows that Bangladesh’s drugs industry is important not only for domestic health and economic reasons, but as a source of essential medicines for 135 countries, including 27 other LDCs. As well as shedding light on the successful pursuit of sectoral industrial policy in LDCs, the paper finds that the loss of the waiver would indeed jeopardise the pharmaceuticals industry and national health outcomes, as well as drugs importation in other LDCs. Strong intellectual property protection does not promote technological development in developing countries. The main policy implications are that Bangladesh should seek an extension to the WTO waiver; that the government should continue with its somewhat unconventional, homegrown approach to industrial policy in the sector; and that the international community should support the government’s efforts to do so.

Download the paper here.


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