WTO Talks Extended; Unclear Whether Text on Drugs, Patents Will Stand if Talks Collapse
A World Trade Organization ministerial working group meeting in Doha, Qatar, has "ignor[ed]" its Nov. 13 deadline to continue negotiations on a draft declaration, although it is not clear whether a text relating to access to medicines will stand if the talks collapse, the AP/Nando Times reports (Koppel, AP/Nando Times, 11/13). WTO ministers had crafted a 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. The draft "assures" developing countries that patent rules would not "stand in the way" of nations that wish to produce or import generic drugs to combat "epidemic health crises like AIDS and malaria." 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. However, the text refers the issue of parallel importation, in which countries can import generic versions of patented drugs, to a committee (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 11/13). The text addressing pharmaceuticals and patents will not be formally approved until WTO ministers adopt a wider agreement on an agenda for a new round of trade talks (Dow Jones International News, 11/13). Ministers from all 142 WTO member nations must approve this agreement for it to pass (Geitner, Associated Press, 11/13). To work out several contentious issues in the larger agreement, ministers extended the conference for an extra day. However, it is not clear whether the text on drugs and patents "would stand" if the larger agreement is not reached (AP/Nando Times, 11/13).
Drug Industry Reaction
The Wall Street Journal today profiles the pharmaceutical industry's mixed reaction to the text proposed by the ministers. Nancy Pekarek, a spokesperson for drug maker GlaxoSmithKline, said, "The language (of the declaration) maintains the integrity of [WTO patent protections]." Brian Ager, director general of the European Federation of the Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations, added, "It's still very much a political declaration" and not a change to WTO rules. However, the Journal reports that Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America President Alan Holmer has been "fretful" over the text and had sent a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick "warn[ing] against any compromise that might weaken drug patents." Lobbyists for the pharmaceutical industry say that the draft's "vague" language could lead some countries "to flout patents" or "get cheap generics where they can." U.S. trade representatives, however, say that the text does not "weake[n]" WTO legal protections for pharmaceutical patents (Winestock/Cooper, Wall Street Journal, 11/14).