Japanese Proposal To Break WTO ‘Impasse’ on Generic Drug Access Fails
A Japanese proposal offered as an attempt to solve the current "impasse" in World Trade Organization talks over allowing developing countries that do not have the ability to domestically produce medicines the right to import low-cost generic drugs, including those used to treat HIV/AIDS, failed yesterday, Agence France-Presse reports. Similar to previous plans offered by the United States and the European Union, Japan's proposal would have offered a list of 22 diseases for which developing countries could import drugs, but it also recommended that the WTO Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights Council confirm coverage of any diseases not listed and seek "views of any outside experts" (Agence France-Presse, 2/5). The proposal was one of several attempts to reach an agreement after ambassadors representing 144 nations in December 2002failed to meet a self-imposed deadline to clarify the November 2001 Doha declaration. The agreement 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 can neither make drugs nor import them. The talks stalled after 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, 1/8).
Developing Nations See U.S. Position As 'Real Point of Contention'
Developing nations led by South Africa dismissed the Japanese proposal, saying that it was "missing the real point of contention" in the talks. "We should stop wasting our time on proposals that clearly will not bring us to the real problem, which is the United States' position," Antonio de Aguiar Patriota, a Brazilian diplomat, said. Representatives from developing nations claimed that any proposal including a list of diseases to which the agreement would be applicable would be "unacceptable" because they said it violated the 2001 agreement, which states that individual governments can determine what constitutes a public health crisis. U.S. officials want to limit the scope of the agreement to infectious diseases, claiming that some countries may use the agreement to override patents on drugs to treat diseases like asthma, diabetes or obesity and could endanger the monetary incentives for pharmaceutical companies to develop new treatments (Koppel, Associated Press, 2/5).
In order to "counter international critics," Robert Zoellick, the U.S. trade representative at the talks, issued a temporary moratorium on enforcing drug patents for poor nations, the Wall Street Journal reports. Some critics called the move a "smoke screen" for the Bush administration's failure in agreeing on a long-term solution to the problem, according to the Journal. Neither the moratorium nor President Bush's new international AIDS initiative has "quelled criticism" of the U.S. stance. "Doha was not just about AIDS, but about access for the poor to a range of life-saving medicines in the future," James Love, who is monitoring the WTO talks for the Consumer Project on Technology, said (Hamburger, Wall Street Journal, 2/6). Although talks are expected to continue over the next few days, it "seems unlikely" that the problem will be resolved prior to the WTO General Council meeting, which is set to make a final decision on Monday, according to the Associated Press (Associated Press, 2/5).