Faisal Mohamed, a student in York University’s Graduate Program in Health, co-wrote a paper with program director Claudia Chaufan, that appeared in the latest volume of The International Journal of Health Services. The paper, titled “A Critical Discourse Analysis of Intellectual Property Rights Within NAFTA 1.0: Implications for NAFTA 2.0 and for Democratic (Health) Governance in Canada,” explores how trade policy leads to social and health inequalities by influencing pharmaceutical prices.
Canada has some of the highest pharmaceutical prices among wealthy nations, compounded by the lack of a universal pharmacare program. As a result, one in 10 Canadians struggle to afford their prescriptions, and about one million every year cut down on food and heat to purchase prescription drugs, according to research in Mohamed’s paper, which shows that trade policies have significant impact on the health of Canadians.
Prior to the ratification of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1993, compulsory licensing, which allows pharmaceutical companies to produce drugs under patent without the consent of the patent holder, was removed from Canada’s Patent Act, while intellectual property rights, which protect patent holders and increase drug prices, were strengthened.
Mohamed argues that this is one of several mechanisms through which states implement policies that favour corporate interests. Through patents which protect drug producers from real competition, companies have been granted state-sponsored monopolies which keeps drug prices high.
According to Mohamed, this is a form of corporate protectionism in Canada that is hidden from the public under the guise of “free trade agreements,” while leaders in the industry claim that high prices are due to the costs associated with research and development.
“The federal government has wronged the Canadian people,” Mohamed said. “The agreements are marketed as ‘free trade’ yet contain mechanisms of selective corporate protectionism, hiding how these treaties contribute to the reproduction of class hierarchies and health inequities.”
In their paper, Mohamed and Chaufan argue that the Canadian government’s decision to modify the Patent Act before ratifying NAFTA saw them appropriating the language of protecting the public good while in practice legitimizing and consolidating private drug development and production, legalizing exorbitant profits and excluding well-tested publicly financed alternatives.
Although NAFTA has been replaced with a newer agreement, the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA), they say their analysis offers important lessons moving forward.
The paper originated as part of Mohamed’s master’s research, which he developed and published with the encouragement of Chaufan, his PhD supervisor.
“It has been a rewarding experience for me personally because this is my first publication in a journal,” Mohamed said, “so it’s not only a sense of achievement, but a marker of progress as my writing ability continues to improve.”
“A Critical Discourse Analysis of Intellectual Property Rights Within NAFTA 1.0: Implications for NAFTA 2.0 and for Democratic (Health) Governance in Canada” can be downloaded from York University Libraries.