US drug firms body calls for UK to be put on international trade ‘Watch List’

The body that represents US drug companies wants the UK on an international trade “Watch List”.

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America is “frustrated the NHS is not paying enough for US drugs”, campaigners warn.

It called for US President Donald Trump “to address discriminatory market access practices abroad that free ride on American innovation and put US jobs and exports at risk”.

The call came in its annual submission to the United States Trade ­Representative 2020 Special 301 Report last week.

It said: “PhRMA requests that United Kingdom be placed on the Watch List and that the US government continue to seek assurances that the problems described herein are quickly and effectively resolved.”


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A “continued lack of patient access to innovative medicines” was “of particular concern”.

Nick Dearden, director of campaign group Global Justice Now, says being on the Watch List means the US government can start applying pressure to force a country to change what it has been doing on drug prices.

He said: “PhRMA is frustrated the NHS is not paying enough for US drugs. This opens up the possibility of political pressure from the US government to change the system here.”

The drugs industry, known as Big Pharma, is worth £1.3trillion annually to the US economy.

In 2018 the pharmaceutical lobby succeeded in placing India on a Priority List after it recommended the move to the US Trade Representative.

In response, India’s Centre for Advance Trade Research said this was “the latest in a series of pressure tactics from US to gain more favourable trade terms from India”.

Trade expert Dr Ellen ‘t Hoen, director at research group Medicines Law & Policy and a researcher at the University Medical Center Groningen, in the Netherlands, says in a sense, the US Trade Representative uses the Watch List to “bully” countries.

She explains: “The special 301 Watch List is the USTR’s version of bullying of countries. This has no relation to whether these countries are in breach of their international obligations under World Trade Organisation law.


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“Countries do not like to be on the list because it signals that trade sanctions may be taken, so domestic industries depending on export may start to put pressure on the governments listed to change policies.

“For example, policies that would help make new ­medicines available.”

In the run-up to last year’s general election Prime Minister Boris Johnson was repeatedly forced to say the NHS was “not for sale” in forthcoming post-Brexit trade talks with America.

But Dr Andrew Hill, a drug pricing expert and adviser to the World Health Organisation, says the UK has not yet officially taken talks over drug prices off the table yet in a US deal.

He said: “There has been no written confirmation from the UK government that drug prices are excluded in the US-UK trade deal.

“The US Pharmaceutical industry provides millions of dollars in funding to US Senators each year. This should give them strong lobbying power in UK-US trade negotiations.”

The US has 36 countries on a Watch List and Algeria, ­Argentina, Chile, China, India, Indonesia, Kuwait, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Ukraine and Venezuela are all on a Priority List.

The news comes as campaign group Keep Our NHS Public launches a National Day of Action today. NHS staff and campaigners will join forces at 23 locations over the weekend.

The Department for ­International Trade was contacted for comment.

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