Canadian Trade Minister Warns WTO Protestors Against Disrupting Talks Over Generic Drug Access
Protestors who are planning to disrupt this week's World Trade Organization meeting in Montreal could be blocking progress on issues such as improving access to antiretroviral drugs for HIV-positive people in developing countries, Pierre Pettigrew, Canada's international trade minister, said on Friday, the Montreal Gazette reports. Trade ministers from 26 countries -- representing 70% of the world's population -- yesterday began an informal three-day meeting to discuss the Doha development agenda, according to the Gazette (Alcoba, Montreal Gazette, 7/26). 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, 7/2). While no decisions will be made during the Montreal meeting, Pettigrew said that the ministers plan to "weed out the issues" ahead of the September WTO meeting in Cancun, Mexico (Montreal Gazette, 7/26).
Despite Pettigrew's warning, approximately 1,000 people engaged in protest marches, demonstrations and street parties on Sunday, and similar protests are expected to continue through Wednesday (Picard, Globe and Mail, 7/27). Pettigrew on Friday said, "If they want to stop us, fine, good luck. But they should bear the responsibility that what they're really trying to do is screw ... the African HIV victims" (Montreal Gazette, 7/26). Protestors at the meeting "reacted angrily" to the minister's statements, according to CanWest/Calgary Herald. Ken Georgetti, president of the Canadian Labour Congress, said, "The minister has been involved in this process for a long time and the results in getting medicine to people with AIDS ... have been absolutely zero." Georgetti said that the protestors are not trying to impede the WTO's attempts to improve access to life-saving drugs. He added, "Mr. Pettigrew knows this full well. The protestors have no faith in the process and the methods the Canadian government has employed" (Jack, CanWest/Calgary Herald, 7/26).