United States ‘Unlikely’ to Change Position on WTO Plan to Loosen Restrictions on Generic Drug Access
The United States last month refused to sign an agreement with World Trade Organization nations to allow developing countries low-cost access to generic versions of patented drugs, including those used to treat HIV/AIDS, and it is "unlikely" that the U.S. stance as outlined in an alternative offer will change, a U.S. trade official speaking anonymously said, Reuters reports (Palmer, Reuters, 1/7). Ambassadors representing 144 nations on Dec. 20 failed to meet a self-imposed deadline to reach an agreement on giving developing countries that do not have the ability to domestically produce medicines the right to import low-cost generic drugs, as the United States "insisted" that the deal should apply only to drugs used to treat certain infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 12/23/02). To "shield itself from criticism" after the Doha talks "collapsed," the United States announced a moratorium on dispute settlement action against countries that export certain generic drugs to low-income areas to fight public health crises, Reuters reports. The U.S. trade official said that the administration considers the offer a "good unilateral solution," adding that strong drug patents are "important" because of the large pharmaceutical industry in the United States. Some U.S. officials have said that Brazil and India are attempting to expand the scope of diseases under the Doha agreement so they can produce generic versions of "lucrative patented drugs," such as Viagra, according to Reuters. A joint letter from Brazilian and Indian ambassadors published yesterday in the Financial Times denies that allegation (Reuters, 1/7).
Other international officials have criticized the U.S. position in the negotiations, which center around the November 2001 Doha declaration. That document states that WTO member nations can ignore pharmaceutical patents and domestically produce generic drugs in cases of public health emergencies. However, drugs produced under such "compulsory licensing" agreements were meant only to be used domestically and not exported, leaving developing countries without a pharmaceutical industry unable to benefit from the declaration because they could neither make drugs nor import them (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 12/23/02). French President Jacques Chirac yesterday took a "veiled slap" at the "selfishness" of the United States in the Doha talks during a speech to the diplomatic corps at a New Year's reception, Agence France-Presse reports (Agence France-Presse, 1/7). Also, South African Chief Trade Negotiator Xavier Carim has "dismissed" the United States' alternative offer, saying it does "not go far enough" and "has no international legal foundation and can be withdrawn at any time," Business Day reports. Carim said that other WTO members "rejected" the U.S. proposal, adding, "It is a bit worrying that one country can block consensus when others have made an assessment of where we can go." He also expressed concern that the failure to agree "undermines the agenda of the WTO" and said there is a "danger the negotiations would become linked to other issues" (Fraser, Business Day, 1/6). Ambassadors will likely attempt to agree on the issue again when they meet in February (Reuters, 1/7).