UCL Institute of the Americas


Coalitions and Compliance: The Political Economy of Pharmaceutical Patents in Latin America

25 January 2017, 6:00 pm

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UCL Institute of the Americas


UCL Institute of the Americas, 51 Gordon Square, London WC1H 0PN

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Kenneth Shadlen (LSE) -Since the late 1980s developing countries have come under considerable pressure to revise their intellectual property policies and practices. One area where pressures have been exceptionally controversial is in pharmaceuticals: historically, fearing the costs of providing private property rights over knowledge in this area, developing countries did not grant patents to drugs. Now they must do so.

This paper examines different forms of compliance with this new international imperative in Latin America, analysing the politics of pharmaceutical patenting in Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico. Focus is placed on two periods of patent politics: initial conflicts over how to introduce drug patents, and then subsequent conflicts over how these new patent systems should function. In contrast to explanations of national policy choice based on external pressures, domestic institutions, or the ideological orientation of political leaders, I attribute cross-national and longitudinal variation in patent policy to the ways that changing social structures affect political leaders' abilities to construct and sustain supportive coalitions. Emphasis is placed on two ways that social structures are transformed so as to affect coalition building possibilities: how exporters fearing the loss of preferential market access may be converted into allies of transnational drug firms, and the differential patterns of adjustment among state and societal actors that are inspired by the introduction of new policies. It is within the changing structural conditions produced by these two processes that political leaders build coalitions in support of different forms of compliance.

Professor Kenneth Shadlen is a political scientist in the Department of International Development at the London School of Economics. His work focuses on the global and cross-national politics of intellectual property (IP) and the implications that the new global IP regime presents for late development, and the various ways that the international norms and rules for IP are adopted at the national level and affect national practices. Professor Shadlen has also written extensively on the political economy of North-South trade agreements, the relationship between regional/bilateral and multilateral trade agreements, and the changing patterns of government-business relations in developing countries.  He is one of the managing editors of the Journal of Development Studies.

This event is part of the UCL Americas Latin American Political Economy Series, convened by Dr Néstor Castañeda