The Trump administration is rightly focused on fighting back against foreign trade practices that treat American companies unfairly. Most countries that do this try to obscure it from view, yet the nation of Colombia has a bolder approach—they are asking to be rewarded for it.
The United States and Columbia have negotiated a bilateral trade agreement, and as a result, Colombian companies enjoy privileged access to the U.S. market. Those benefits come with obligations to treat American companies fairly. But for our most innovative companies, those whose products are protected by intellectual property rights such as patents, Colombia not only falls short, it is creating new problems.
Colombia has been on the U.S. Trade Representative’s list of countries that fail to provide adequate and effective intellectual property protection for nearly thirty years. But instead of fixing longstanding problems, now they are threatening to create new ones—the government of Colombia is currently considering a measure that would render meaningless the patent rights on more than a dozen different medicines for hepatitis C.
Why would they consider such a drastic and provocative step? Is there a sudden epidemic? No, according to the Center for Disease Control, the incidence of hepatitis C in Colombia is “low” – the same category as the United States. Is it that these medicines are particularly expensive? No, the government of Colombia is already buying hepatitis C treatments at a 90 percent discount!
Stunningly, at the very same time when the country is preparing to strip American companies of their rights, Colombia is brazenly asking to be allowed to join the prestigious Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
The OECD defines itself as “a community of nations committed to the values of democracy based on rule of law and human rights, and adherence to open and transparent market-economy principles.” It doesn’t seem like the right fit for a country that is threatening to deprive American companies of their rights and impose price controls far below market value. This type of government intrusion on property rights is exactly the opposite of the pro-growth, market-based philosophy on which the OECD was founded.
The good news is the Trump administration is onto them. Just last month, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer wrote a letter to his Colombian counterpart correctly stating, “Columbia’s regime does not meet the high standards of the OECD…” and, “Key stakeholders remain dissatisfied and doubt Colombia’s willingness or ability to implement the additional commitments….” As a result of that letter, senior Colombian officials are coming to Washington this month to try to cajole the Trump administration into allowing the country to join the OECD.
Ambassador Lighthizer and the Trump administration are right to point out Colombia’s shortcomings. They should hold the line, and not support Colombia’s OECD accession, until Colombia lives up to its commitments to give American companies fair treatment. And if Colombia continues to move in the wrong direction, the White House should consider whether those actions give rise to a formal case under existing trade agreements.
Steven Tepp is Professorial Lecturer in Law at George Washington University Law School and President & CEO of Sentinel Worldwide, where he represents clients with interests in intellectual property protection.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.