TRIPS And Health Still Blocked As Deadline Nears

12 December 2002

Negotiations on paragraph 6 of the Doha Declaration on the TRIPs Agreement and Public Health are continuing at a snail's pace, with little willingness on all sides to move on the key outstanding issues. While the importance of these negotiations for the so-called "Doha Development Agenda" are generally acknowledged, some observers are starting to question whether it would be in developing countries' best interest to settle on a weak deal by the end of the year or rather continue the negotiations into 2003.

According to paragraph 6 of the Doha Declaration on the TRIPs Agreement and Public Health, the TRIPs Council must find an expeditious solution to the problems countries may face in making use of compulsory licensing (i.e. allowing the use of a patent without the consent of the patent-holder under certain conditions) if they have insufficient or no pharmaceutical manufacturing capacity. The TRIPs Council is mandated to report to the WTO General Council on this by the end of 2002.

Chair identifies six clusters of outstanding issues

During informal negotiations on 8 December, TRIPs Council Chair Ambassador Eduardo Peréz Motta (Mexico) identified six groups of still- contentious issues, describing them as "a fairly impressive list of problems to have at this stage". These groups include: disease coverage; eligible countries (importers and exporters); procedures for notifications and safeguards to prevent flowback of generic drugs into developed country markets; remuneration to patent holders; regional groupings and technology transfer; and a legal mechanism for a permanent solution once the waiver has come into effect.

Members continued negotiations on these six clusters in the open-ended meeting on 8-9 December and subsequently in small groups, but did not make any major headway on narrowing the remaining gaps (see BRIDGES Weekly, 28 November 2002). Chair Peréz Motta noted that Members were "still far apart" on the diseases to be covered by the solution, i.e. infectious diseases as proposed by the US and Switzerland, or public health problems more generally as favoured by developing countries. The US is coming under increasing pressure from the US Senate and pharmaceutical industries not to broaden the scope of the solution beyond infectious diseases. Some trade sources, however, believe that this stance could make it highly unlikely that the US would succeed in gaining support from developing countries and be able to finalise a deal by the end of the year.

While the Chair has not released another full draft text since the 24 November version, he has put forward proposals for individual paragraphs for discussion by Members. According to sources, Peréz Motta intends to submit a compromise text on his own responsibility that aims to strike a balance between the six issue areas.

Both TRIPs and health and special & differential treatment (S&D, see related story, this issue) remain the two key outstanding issues to be resolved by the end of the year. Trade sources speculated that if Members were to finalise only one of the two issues, the TRIPs and health negotiations were more likely to be completed, given the high public profile of the negotiations and their importance for portraying the "development focus" of the current trade round.

Some developing country Members and industry representatives, however, have raised doubts whether a rushed solution by the end of the year would actually be advisable, or whether talks should rather continue into 2003. As one Brazilian delegate noted, those countries expecting to benefit from the solution would prefer to stick to the provisions of the Doha Declaration than accept a restrictive solution such as that proposed by the US and others. There was "no momentum at all" at this stage to reach an agreement, the official added. Dr. Havery F. Bale from the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Associations (IFPMA) echoed this sentiment, saying that no deal was better than a bad deal. He added that in any case, the TRIPs and health issue was a "post-2005 contingency negotiation," as developing countries -- including major generic producers such as India -- were not required to provide full patent protection until 2005.

Both TRIPs and health and S&D have been pushed to the end of the General Council agenda. The Council is scheduled to meet from 10-13 December, but is expected to reconvene next week, possibly on 18 and 20 December (see related story, this issue).

ICTSD reporting; "TRIPs panel chairman says talks on drug issues making little progress," WTO REPORTER, 12 December 2002.  

This article is published under
12 December 2002
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12 December 2002
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