WTO Ministers Pledge Action But Fail to Reach ‘Definitive Agreement’ on Broadening Access to Medicines for Poor NationsWorld Trade Organization ministers on Friday promised to "press" the WTO to finalize rules that would grant developing nations greater access to medicines, but they failed to reach a "definitive agreement" on how to implement the rules, the Sydney Morning Herald reports. Ministers from 25 WTO member nations meeting in Sydney last week said that they would "send the issue back to WTO headquarters ... for fine-tuning" (Allard, Sydney Morning Herald, 11/16). The discussions focused 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 declaration 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, 11/15). WTO ministers said that the Sydney meeting was a "success," but representatives have not yet agreed which countries will qualify to receive access to generic drugs or which drugs will be included in the plan. Canadian Trade Minister Pierre Pettigrew said that all delegates have agreed that medicines to treat HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria would be included in the plan, but countries are still disputing whether drugs to treat other diseases, such as cancer and diabetes, would also be included. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick said that officials will continue to work out the details in the coming weeks, and several ministers predicted that an agreement would be reached by the end of the year. Other ministers, however, said that a resolution may not occur by the end of the year. Nigerian Commerce Minister Mustafa Bello said that WTO Director-General Supachai Panitchpakdi has begun discussing which parts of the plan are "most important" if an overall agreement is not reached by the end of the year (Day, Asian Wall Street Journal, 11/18). All 145 WTO member nations will have to agree on the plan for it to be ratified (Sydney Morning Herald, 11/16).
AIDS Activists Criticize Plan
AIDS activists criticized parts of the agreement, saying that certain provisions would create obstacles for developing nations seeking access to cheaper medicines. Activists were unhappy with one provision that would require both the country wishing to import a generic drug and the country where the generic manufacturer is based to agree to override the patent on the drug. Developing countries and nongovernmental agencies say that the decision to import a generic drug should be left solely to the country seeking the drug. "This [provision] makes the needy importing country unacceptably dependent on the political will of another government and increases the administrative burden," a statement by Oxfam and Medecins Sans Frontieres said (Marsh, Financial Times, 11/16).