WTO Drug Import Deadlock Broken
Decision removes final patent obstacle to cheap drug imports by developing countries
GENEVA - WTO member governments have broken their deadlock over intellectual property protection and public health.
In effect, they agreed on legal changes that will make it easier for poorer countries to import cheaper generics made under compulsory licensing if they are unable to manufacture the medicines themselves.
The decision settles the one remaining piece of unfinished business on intellectual property and health that was left over from the WTO Ministerial Conference in Doha in November, 2001.
"This is a historic agreement for the WTO," said Director-General Supachai Panitchpakdi. "The final piece of the jigsaw has fallen into place, allowing poorer countries to make full use of the flexibilities in the WTO's intellectual property rules in order to deal with the diseases that ravage their people."
The move "also gives WTO members a good momentum to take to the Ministerial Conference in Cancun. I sincerely hope ministers can work together to reach agreement on the other outstanding issues that they will deal with in Canc?uot; he said.
The decision waives countries' obligations under a provision of the WTO's intellectual property agreement.
Article 31(f) of the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement says that production "under compulsory licensing must be predominantly for the domestic market."
This effectively limited the ability of countries that cannot make pharmaceutical products from importing cheaper generics from countries where pharmaceuticals are patented.
In the decision, WTO member governments have agreed that the waiver will last until the article is amended.
All WTO member countries are eligible to import under the decision, but 23 developed countries are listed in the decision as announcing voluntarily that they will not use the system to import.
A number of other WTO members - China, Hong Kong, Israel, Korea, Kuwait, Macao China, Mexico, Qatar, Singapore, Taiwan, Turkey, and United Arab Emirates - announced separately that if they use the system it would only be for "emergencies or extremely urgent situations."
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