Trade is not only the driving force behind economic globalisation, but also a major influence on the extent to which States can implement economic, social and cultural policies. Indeed, trade rules, including those of the World Trade Organization (WTO), are increasingly curtailing the policy space of States. Without sufficient policy flexibility to adapt trade agreements to national circumstances and development goals, States can find themselves in a position where trade rules undermine their capacity to comply with their human rights obligations. In order to address this problem, it is necessary to understand how trade rules adversely affect the enjoyment of human rights. Moreover, it is important to assess whether international human rights rules and accountability mechanisms can provide solutions capable of reducing the negative impact of trade rules on the enjoyment of human rights.
One of the first trade-related issues to involve clearly recognised human right implications is the effect of intellectual property (IP) rules on access to affordable medicines. IP protection became an international trade issue with the adoption of the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS Agreement) in 1994. Developing countries, supported by public-interest NGOs and the international media, raised concerns about the public health impacts of the TRIPS Agreement very early on. These concerns resulted in an unprecedented political commitment: the WTO Doha Declaration on TRIPS and Public Health 2001 (Doha Declaration).