Despite Introduction of Informal Plan, WTO Nations Still Unable To Agree on Measure To Expand Drug Access to Developing Nations
Although delegates from 22 World Trade Organization member nations failed to break gridlock on the issue of how to relax patent protection to give developing nations better access to drugs to fight public health epidemics, including HIV/AIDS, a proposal by Brazil may offer a "glimmer of hope" in the talks, Reuters reports. Under the new plan, introduced Saturday during a three-day meeting in Tokyo, the World Health Organization would determine if low-income nations have the infrastructure to manufacture generic versions of drugs (Large, Reuters, 2/16). WTO members missed a Dec. 31, 2002, deadline to reach an agreement on how to expand drug access because U.S. negotiators have held out on an agreement unless specific wording was included to specify which diseases constitute a public health crisis. The U.S. stance has been that developing nations could use patent overrides to produce generic versions of "lucrative patented drugs" -- such as Viagra -- that are not used to fight public health epidemics. Negotiators have said it is "unlikely" that the U.S. stance as outlined in an alternative offer will change, a U.S. trade official speaking anonymously said in January. 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 (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 1/8).
Working Toward a Solution
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick declined to comment specifically on the Brazilian plan, saying it was not a "formal proposal," but he said, "This is not a disagreement about HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria or other epidemics -- or Africa. We will continue to work with others towards a multilateral solution within the WTO." Pascal Lamy, European trade chief, said, "Brazil's answer was that if the concern of the U.S. is that countries that might have manufacturing capacity pretend they don't have one, then the WHO can be used as a check. ... The problem we have on this is that there's too much mistrust around the table." Other nations praised Brazil's plan as a "constructive contribution" to the talks, according to Reuters. "[T]his issue ... [is] going to provide a significant level of confidence amongst the developing world so we can move forward with the core negotiations," Australian Trade Minister Mark Vaile said (Reuters, 2/16).