Ambassador Leading WTO Talks To Expand Drug Access to Low-Income Nations Steps Down Without a Signed Agreement
Mexican Ambassador Eduardo Perez Motta, who has led World Trade Organization talks on how to expand access to patented drugs so that lower-income nations can combat public health crises, including HIV/AIDS, will step down from his post today, with "no agreement in sight" on loosening drug patents, the Associated Press reports. Motta's term expires today (Koppel, Associated Press, 2/18). U.S. delegates at a Geneva meeting on Tuesday again refused to sign a deal under the Doha declaration to allow developing nations to override patent protections to produce generic versions of "desperately needed" drugs, a move largely motivated by President Bush's "close links" to the pharmaceutical industry, London's Guardian reports. Negotiators "expressed frustration" at the failure to reach an agreement and said that the "solution to deadlock lay in America's hands" (Denny, Guardian, 2/19). WTO members missed a Dec. 31, 2002, deadline to reach an agreement because U.S. negotiators refused to sign a pact unless wording was included to specify which diseases constitute a public health epidemic. The United States says that without such a list, 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. As an interim measure, 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). A U.S. counter-offer to agree to easing patents only to produce drugs to combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis was deemed "too restrictive" by other nations (Guardian, 2/19). Further, the failure to reach an agreement on drug access -- a mandate first issued in November 2001 -- has started to "overshadow" other WTO issues, such as "crucial" agricultural talks, the Associated Press reports. Although Motta said that the failure to find common ground on drug patents has "thrown a bad light on the WTO," he still expressed optimism, saying, "We are very close to finding a solution" (Associated Press, 2/18).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.