WTO Again Postpones Decision on Generic Drug Access Agreement; U.S. Delegation Requests More Time
The World Trade Organization yesterday once again delayed a decision on an agreement designed to allow 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, after the U.S. delegation requested more time, the London Guardian reports (Elliott, Guardian, 2/11). Formal discussion of a proposal designed to "break the stalemate" is scheduled for next Tuesday at the WTO's council on intellectual property, but it is "likely" that the issue will be discussed at Friday's three-day meeting of leading trade and agriculture ministers in Tokyo (Koppel, Associated Press, 2/10). Yesterday's talks were one of several attempts to reach an agreement after ambassadors representing 144 nations in December 2002 failed 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, 2/6). The European Union and Japan have offered compromise proposals that would list 22 diseases for which developing countries could import generic drugs, but developing nations have rejected such proposals that list diseases. A new proposal avoids designating specific diseases and "instead limit[s] coverage to emergencies at a national level" (Kyodo News, 2/10). "We think it could make the difference and could perhaps get enough confidence on both sides -- especially the pharmaceutical industry -- to come along with all the rest of the WTO constituency. The U.S. government didn't say no at the outset, they said it looks interesting and they have to consult," Mexican Ambassador Eduardo Perez Motta said (Associated Press, 2/10). Some African delegations last night expressed frustration over the new proposal. An unnamed source said, "Which country is going to want to have to say it has a health emergency in order to be allowed drugs? You can just imagine what that would do for tourism" (Guardian, 2/11).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.