WTO Ministers Reach Agreement on Proposal to Increase Access to Medicines to Treat HIV/AIDS, Other Diseases in Developing NationsWorld Trade Organization ministers today agreed on a proposal addressing how to allow developing nations to gain broader access to medicines to treat HIV/AIDS and other diseases, the Sydney Morning Herald reports (Sydney Morning Herald, 11/15). Trade representatives from 25 WTO member nations are meeting in Sydney this week to discuss trade issues regarding medicines, agricultural goods and other products (Brooks/Day, Dow Jones International News, 11/14). The discussions are focusing on how to implement a declaration approved in November 2001 by a WTO ministerial working group that states that developing nations can override patent protections to manufacture medicines during public health emergencies. The declaration says that the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement, which outlines international patent rules, "can and should be interpreted and implemented in a manner supportive of WTO members' right to protect public health and, in particular, to promote access to medicines for all." The text also states that each WTO member has the right to issue compulsory licenses and the liberty to determine when to issue the licenses (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 10/25).
Thai Commerce Minister Adisai Bodharamik said that ministers have agreed to endorse provisions that will allow some developing nations to manufacture generic versions of patented drugs for HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis. Developing nations producing the drugs would also be allowed to export the medicines to other poor countries on a "case-by-case basis," but ministers have reiterated that safeguards will be in place to prevent the drugs from being diverted back to developed countries for sale at higher prices. Australian Trade Minister Mark Vaile said that ministers have successfully addressed developed countries' concerns about "maintaining the integrity of intellectual property and patents" on the drugs (Sands/Dugdale, Agence France-Presse, 11/15). Officials from non-governmental organizations added that the agreement includes provisions outlining which countries will be allowed to manufacture the drugs. The proposal also includes a section waiving "any formal trade legal action" against developing nations that produce generic pharmaceuticals (Sydney Morning Herald, 11/15). U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Wednesday urged WTO ministers to agree on a proposal regarding access to drugs by Dec. 31, and Vaile said he is "confident" that the deadline can be met (Agence France-Presse, 11/15).