Opinions Are Split On Whether Canada Will Target U.S. Pharmaceutical Industry To Retaliate Against Tariffs

prescription drugs
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Three months ago, biomedical scientist and University of Ottawa law professor Amir Attaran penned an op-ed in Canadian magazine Maclean’s. In it, he stated that there are Canadian government officials considering voiding the patents of U.S. drug manufacturers, as retaliation for tariffs imposed by U.S. President Donald Trump. That discussion has resurfaced again, and Attaran is maintaining the same stance that he took before, and still will not divulge which government officials he claims have been considering targeting the American pharmaceutical industry, which has raised doubts from some.

With the trade tariffs that President Trump imposed against Canada, there have been some industries taking hits, most notably both steel and auto. While Canada has imposed their own set of retaliatory tariffs, they haven’t really had the same impact. That was why Attaran made the claim that the idea of failing to recognize drug patents held by U.S. companies would hit back at the U.S. in a way that would — somewhat — level the playing field. He also admitted that doing so would be giving up negotiations on NAFTA, and almost all trade talks with the U.S., per Yahoo Finance. In a sense, it has been likened to the nuclear option.

Attaran has laid out the entire plan for a pharma-based retaliation strategy, but it has raised doubt from those with similar credentials, who claim that it might look good on paper, but, in reality it would be implausible. Among the skeptical is Dr. Joel Lexchin, a University of Toronto professor and emergency physician with more than 30 years of experience researching pharmaceutical policy. He told Yahoo that the reality of the plan Attaran laid out is hard to take seriously.

“It’s possible, but only in a theoretical sense. This would be very contentious. It would trigger probably even more fury from Donald Trump. There would be the question of whether or not the brand name (U.S.) companies would cut the supply of medications to Canada. They might threaten to do that. Generic drug companies won’t be able to take over all the current brand name drugs because there is the issue of getting access to the active ingredients. I don’t see it being done in Canada. It wouldn’t be worth it.”

Attaran contends that the World Trade Organization would back Canada if they made this move. While the organization is restrictive about international intellectual property rights as related to trade, they are far from prohibitive. It is his feeling that if Canada did threaten pharma retaliation, that the U.S. would blink, because they have no other choice but to react that way, and that one way or another, Canada would come out ahead. His take on it is the complete opposite Lexchin.

“Pharma would be putting in phone calls out to everyone in Congress whom they made campaign donations to. And that is nearly everyone. Pharma spends more on lobbying than banking and defense combined, and each of those are a huge lobby.”

Global Affairs Canada did not respond to a request for comment on what Attaran or Lexchin had to say, and Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister, Chrystia Freeland, could not be reached either, as she is currently in Washington D.C. working on NAFTA negotiations.