Pharmaceutical Industry ‘Recasting Its Position’ in WTO Talks Over Importation, Access to Generic Drugs
The pharmaceutical industry is "recasting its position" in World Trade Organization talks over the importation of generic drugs to developing countries by considering compromises on the scope of diseases covered by the agreement, Knight Ridder/Washington Times reports (Sparshott, Knight Ridder/Washington Times, 7/1). 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, including HIV/AIDS, unless wording was included to specify which diseases constitute a public health epidemic. 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 that are not used to fight public health epidemics. However, the United States last month made a concession by dropping its demand that the agreement apply only to a specified list of diseases (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 6/23).
An unnamed U.S. trade official said that the pharmaceutical industry is also exploring ways to reach a compromise. The companies are considering compromises that would expand the scope of the diseases as well as which countries would be able to receive the drug waivers and the conditions that will constitute the public health crisis status needed to obtain the waivers, according to Mark Grayson, spokesperson for Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. Although the companies have been "having a lot of conversations" with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick, Grayson said, "This has been a difficult problem, so I don't mean to suggest that it's on its way to imminent solution" (Knight Ridder/Washington Times, 7/1). U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Monday at the opening of the U.N. Economic and Social Council called for countries to show great flexibility in negotiations and to reach a compromise before the September WTO ministerial meeting in Cancun, Mexico (Millar, Agence France-Presse, 6/30).