Bangladesh needs to boost its negotiating and political efforts in Dhaka and other capitals to enjoy waiver on pharmaceuticals for least-developed countries (LDCs) for an indefinite period beyond graduation.
Engaging the private sector and non-state actors in the endeavour could be fruitful in this case, said Dr Debapriya Bhattacharya, distinguished fellow at the Centre for Policy Dialogue.
He was addressing a virtual 'meet the press' styled 'Recent WTO decision on extension of TRIPS transition period for LDCs: Implications for graduating Bangladesh' on Saturday.
Later this month, the General Council of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) is adopting a proposal on the extension of LDC transition period by another 13 years until 2034 under the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement.
A proposal seeking waiver for the pharmaceutical industry of the LDCs in their post-graduation phase for an additional 12 years will also be discussed and expected to get the council's approval.
Dr Bhattacharya, also a member of the United Nations Committee for Development Policy, said the LDC members of the WTO have been enjoying the transition period for implementation of the commitments since 1995 in view of their special needs and requirements.
The pharma waiver for the LDCs under the TRIPS deal is set to expire in January 2033, he mentioned.
"As Bangladesh is scheduled to graduate from the LDC group in 2026, the country is keen to enjoy this concession (pharma waiver) not only for the remaining seven years, (but also) beyond."
If the waiver becomes unavailable for Bangladesh after graduation, Dr Bhattacharya says, it will have to lift import restrictions on pharma products, and small-scale companies will face increased competitive pressure.
Besides, Bangladesh will need to grant patents to pharmaceutical-manufacturing products and processes, upward pressure on prices of drags produced domestically and constrain development of active pharmaceutical ingredients.
Dr Bhattacharya also suggested placing country-specific approach to trading and development partners beyond the LDC group making the case for Bangladesh.
He called for creation of an integrated intellectual property (IP) governance system in Bangladesh by reviewing the mandates of copyright office and trademark office as well as taking on board new issues like intangible and IT-based products.
Also, the renowned economist suggested embedding intellectual property rights issues in its LDC transition strategy looking beyond TRIPS pharma waiver.
Replying to a query, he, however, says Bangladeshi consumers do not get the benefit of multiple international waivers and advantages the local pharmaceutical industry enjoys.
"I don't see any effort to maintain consumer rights, produce quality medicine and steps to attain international standard," Dr Bhattacharya said.
"The benefits of various international agreements our pharmaceutical industry enjoys don't reach the poor people," he said, adding that local rules and regulations should be enforced properly to ensure it.
The drug administration has the responsibility to see whether a medicine is being sold at the government-set price or not as exposed clearly during the pandemic period, the economist stated.
Apart from this, he said, the administration is also responsible for ensuring quality of drugs and checking whether date-expired medicine is being sold.