Fifa A Rahman

Fifa A Rahman



I grew up in London, did my Masters at the University of Sydney, and spent the last 6 years leading the policy department for the Malaysian AIDS Council in Kuala Lumpur, working nationally and internationally on access to medicines and trade agreements, drug policy, and qualitative research on key at-risk populations. I am an alumni of the U.S. Department of State International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) – where I visited 5 cities and 1 rural town in the United States, meeting people working on access to HIV services and LGBT anti-violence activities.

What motivated me to undertake PhD study?

While attending the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations rounds as a stakeholder working on access to medicines, I became interested in the negotiating dynamics that I observed, and wanted to find a way to explore it in more depth. I was especially interested in the way that negotiators built strategic coalitions to oppose or propose intellectual property provisions.

What makes me passionate about my subject?

The interplay of high-level foreign policy reaches deep into public health policy and affects how countries access medicines. I am passionate about this area of study because I have seen first hand how maximalist IP prevents patients from obtaining the treatment they need.

What are my plans once I have completed my PhD?

I plan to establish a think tank working on international trade, foreign policy, public health and geopolitics in the Pacific region.

Research interests

Intellectual property provisions in trade agreements are never negotiated in isolation, but rather are negotiated in the context of ‘compromises’. (Reuters, 2015) Often, these are market access demands. (Finger, 2001, p. 1099) During the course of the TPP, the existence of these political economy trade-offs became evident in particular with a provision that had never been included before in any trade agreement, market exclusivity for biologics. New Zealand openly said that market access for dairy was mentioned as being the key tradeoff for biologics exclusivity for New Zealand (Reuters, 2015) (‘once biologics is in the bag, and not before then, the dairy saga can end’) (Clark, 2015) whereas the Mexican Minister for Economy stated that he could not reveal details of the compromise on biologics “until everyone has signed up and we are all on the same page”. [Emphasis added.] (Clark, 2015).

The literature is silent as to whether and how middle-income countries, and upper-middle income countries in particular, were able to negotiate gains in response to intellectual property demands, particularly where the provisions were above domestic legal standards. Because of the unique position of upper middle income countries – as countries aspiring to become developed countries and key targets for maximalist IP, but at the same time as paragons for a different set of lower middle income countries, this research would seek to elucidate issues that these countries face in particular, and provide lessons for lesser developed countries seeking to engage in negotiations.

The research will see to document how upper middle-income countries respond to, and negotiate for, political economy trade-offs that emerge when intellectual property (IP) is in trade agreements.