World Bank Officials Urge WTO to Reevaluate TRIPS Agreement With Regard to AIDS Drugs
Nicholas Stern, the World Bank's chief economist, said that World Trade Organization officials meeting this week in Doha, Qatar, "must ensure that rules protecting intellectual property don't keep poor countries from producing or importing cheap drugs to fight AIDS and other pandemics," Bloomberg News/Boston Globe reports. According to Stern, the 1995 Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights agreement (TRIPS) does not "adequately address" large-scale health problems such as AIDS. AIDS activists and developing nations have argued that the rules "illustrat[e] a tendency for global trade rules to favor profit over people." At least 40 developing countries, including Brazil, South Africa and India, are asking WTO ministers to support a declaration that says, "Nothing in the TRIPS agreement shall prevent members from taking measures to protect public health." Several European governments have said they will back the declaration, which would more easily allow countries to break patents in times of national health emergencies. However, drug companies and the United States oppose changes to TRIPS, saying that the agreement already has the flexibility to allow nations to work around patents in the event of a national health crisis. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick instead proposed extending the date by which WTO member nations must comply with the agreement to 2016 and pledged a "five-year moratorium" on WTO challenges against any sub-Saharan African nation that breaks drug patents (Schwartz/Pethel, Bloomberg News/Boston Globe, 11/7).
Health Activists Step Up Protests as WTO Talks Near
A coalition of health activists led by Medicins Sans Frontieres and Oxfam International today "urged" WTO ministers to revise the TRIPS agreement and announced that they will stage a protest at the U.S. embassy in Bangkok, Thailand, on Friday, the opening day of the WTO conference, Agence France-Presse reports. The groups also "slammed" the United States and Canada for their "hugely hypocritical" effort to get lower prices on the anthrax drug Cipro by threatening to break manufacturer Bayer AG's patent. "It shows that these governments will act to make drugs cheap when it's in their interest. But when the rest of the world is ill, it is profits that come first," the groups said in a statement (Agence France-Presse, 11/7).