WTO Ministers to Vote on TRIPS Compromise That Allows Developing Nations to Override Patents in Public Health Crises
A World Trade Organization ministerial working group meeting in Doha, Qatar, is expected to approve today text that would allow WTO member nations to use the flexibility of the Trade-Related Aspects of International Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement to "ensure access to medicines for all," BBC News reports (Schifferes, BBC News, 11/13). Yesterday, WTO negotiators "all but clinched a deal" on the draft, which "assure[s] developing countries that patent rules do not stand in the way of producing or importing generic drugs when they face epidemic health crises like AIDS and malaria," the New York Times reports (Kahn, New York Times, 11/13). In addition, the draft also gives the poorest countries a 10-year delay on the implementation of patent laws on medicines and allows all countries the right to decide under what circumstances they can override the patents of pharmaceutical companies during public health crises (Winestock/Cooper, Wall Street Journal, 11/13). The text is expected to state that TRIPS "can and should be interpreted and implemented in a manner supportive of WTO members' rights to protect public health and in particular to ensure access to medicines for all" (BBC News, 11/13). However, the text refers the issue of parallel importation, in which countries can import generic versions of patented drugs, to a committee (Wall Street Journal, 11/13). India and Brazil, two countries that have lobbied to loosen restrictions on patents for medicines, "appeared satisfied" by the draft (New York Times, 11/13). Ministers are expected to formally approve the text later today (BBC News, 11/13).
Brokering a Deal
The United States, which had initially opposed a proposal by 52 developing nations regarding TRIPS language, was "instrumental" in developing the compromise. A U.S. trade official said that the United States believed that settling the dispute over medicines and patents was "necessary to 'create a positive dynamic'" at the meeting and to spur talks on other trade issues (New York Times, 11/13). The Wall Street Journal reports that the draft "shows how far the [WTO] has come" on the issue of patent protection for medicines. Jamie Love, director of the Consumer Project on Technology, said, "Two years ago, you never could have got anything like this in the WTO. This is way better than what was floated in Seattle" (Wall Street Journal, 11/13). Ian Bray of Oxfam added that the agreement is "better than anyone could have hoped for a year ago," but added that his group is "disappoint[ed]" that there has been no agreement on the issue of generic importation (BBC News, 11/13). Asia Russell of the Health GAP Coalition said, "This is far from a 100% victory. But it leaves the door open to further discussion, debate and pressure" (Reuters/Baltimore Sun, 11/13). The pharmaceutical industry, however, "hit the roof" after learning of the text's contents (Dougherty, Washington Times, 11/13). Harvey Bale, a lobbyist for the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Associations, said, "This is a defeat for drug companies doing research in AIDS, tuberculosis and the like" (New York Times, 11/13). Bale said that developing a new AIDS drug can cost $1 billion, and that weaker patent protection will "kill incentives for research" into AIDS and other "controversial" diseases (Washington Times, 11/13).