United States ‘Holds Out’ for More Specific Wording in WTO Agreement to Give Developing Nations Access to Low-Cost Drugs
The United States yesterday "held out against other members of the World Trade Organization," refusing to agree to a third draft of an agreement on how to grant developing countries wider access to low-cost drugs, including antiretroviral medications, the Associated Press reports (Koppel, Associated Press, 12/16). Although one source said that "at least" 17 WTO members, including the European Union, said they would support the proposal introduced yesterday by Mexican Ambassador Eduardo Perez Motta, U.S. Ambassador Linnet Deily said that the Bush administration "still had difficulty" with the wording, Agence France-Presse reports (Agence France-Presse, 12/16). At stake in the Doha trade agreement talks in Geneva is which types of diseases constitute a health "epidemic" as written in last year's Doha declaration, according to the Associated Press. The text proposed by Perez, who chairs the WTO committee in charge of the mandate, states that generic drugs could be used to combat "public health problems ... especially those resulting from HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and other epidemics." However, the United States and other countries with "major drug industries" want narrower terms, which would bend international patent laws only in the case of epidemics of "infectious" diseases (Associated Press, 12/16). In November 2001, a WTO ministerial working group approved a declaration that states that developing nations can use "compulsory licensing" to override patent protections to manufacture medicines during public health emergencies, but members have been unable to agree on exact terms (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 12/13). Specifically, the Doha declaration mandates that drugs produced under this type of licensing are only for domestic use and not for export, so other developing nations that cannot produce drugs would also not be able to import them, the Associated Press reports. Pierre-Louis Girard, ambassador from Switzerland, another "hold-out" nation, said he believed the text had "improved," but declined to say whether his nation would approve the declaration. According to the Associated Press, Kenyan Ambassador Amina Chawahir Mohamed, speaking for all African WTO members, said she wanted a "stronger text," and was concerned that any agreement reached would be temporary. The talks are scheduled to resume this afternoon as the WTO tries to meet a Dec. 31 deadline to reach an agreement in the Doha negotiations (Associated Press, 12/16).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.