Solving the differences between developing countries and the US over Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) and pharmaceuticals could be the key to launching a new round of trade negotiations in Doha. The commitment of developing countries to reaching a satisfactory agreement on this issue offers hope for flexibility on their part in other areas.
The title of the current draft text on intellectual property rights and pharmaceuticals summarises the division that exists between the US and developing countries within its square brackets: “Draft declaration on Intellectual Property and [Access to Medicines] [Public Health].”
On the one hand, developing countries want to be able to waive patents for the production of generic drugs that will enable them to build and maintain effective public health systems.
On the other, the US and Switzerland are firmly opposed to this arguing that patents should only be waived and access to medicines given in emergency situations, such as epidemics.
The EU is positioned between the two on this issue. A Commission official observed that this issue had the potential to be “deal-maker” as both developing countries and NGOs support the public health option in the draft. The fact that these two groups, who so often oppose any trade liberalising measures, are in favour of this one offers hope that a deal can be worked out that will allow a more inclusive round to be launched.
The success of the Doha WTO ministerial have taken on added significance since the world economic situation has worsened following the events of 11 September. Various issues have been described as 'deal-breakers' for the Doha meeting, including agriculture.
Intellectual property issues in relation to pharmeceuticals has risen relatively recently to the top of the agenda, boosted by disputes in South Africa over anti-AIDS drugs and the actions of the US to secure cheaper supplies of the anti-Anthrax drug Ciprol made by German company Bayer.
The fourth WTO ministerial will be held in Doha, Qatar on 9-13 November.