U.S. Drops Demand for List of Diseases in WTO Talks Over Production, Importation of Generic Drugs
The United States on Sunday made a "crucial concession" in World Trade Organization talks over an agreement that would allow developing nations to import generic drugs by dropping its demand that the agreement apply only to a specified list of diseases, the Associated Press reports (Koppel, Associated Press, 6/21). WTO talks over generic drug access have been stalled since members missed a Dec. 31, 2002, deadline to reach an agreement. U.S. negotiators in February refused to sign a deal under the Doha declaration to allow developing nations to override patent protections to produce or import generic versions of drugs to combat public health epidemics unless wording was included to specify which diseases constitute a public health epidemic (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 6/16). The United States said that without such a list, developing nations could use patent overrides to produce generic versions of any patented drug, including drugs -- such as Viagra -- that are not used to fight public health epidemics (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 5/29).
Resolution Possible Before Cancun
"The approach of a specific list has proved not to work, so ... we are not insisting on such a list at this point," an unnamed U.S. official said (Associated Press, 6/21). U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick met with leading pharmaceutical companies in Nice, France, to discuss other options and told a meeting of almost 30 trade ministers in Egypt that progress was being made on reaching an agreement (de Jonquieres, Financial Times, 6/22). Drug companies are still expressing concern that generic drug companies could use the agreement to boost their business or that the drugs could be reimported into industrialized countries, undercutting the price of brand-name products. "While the industry sees it as appropriate for countries to use compulsory licensing and even importation to meet health needs, they want to be sure that countries do not abuse that as a way of promot[ing] the commercial interests of generic industries," the U.S. official said. While U.S. officials are still in negotiations with the pharmaceutical industry, the official said he is "hopeful" that the issue would be resolved before the September WTO ministerial meeting in Cancun, Mexico (Associated Press, 6/21).