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WTO agrees to cheap drugs for poor states

August 31, 2003

GENEVA, Aug 30: A decision by the World Trade Organization on Saturday broke an eight-month deadlock over access to cheap, generic prescription drugs for poor countries facing a public health crisis.

The 146-member WTO approved legal changes to its Trade-related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement that will make it easier for poor countries to import generic prescription drugs if they are unable to manufacture them themselves.

The approval removed a serious roadblock in the stalled round of international trade negotiations launched in Doha in November 2001.

Here are some of the reactions:

WTP Director-General Supachai Panitchpakdi:

“This is a historic agreement for the WTO. 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.

“It proves once and for all that the organization can handle humanitarian as well as trade concerns. This particular question has been specially difficult. The fact that WTO members have managed to find a compromise in such a complex issue bears testimony to their goodwill.”

Kenyan ambassador to the WTO Amina Chawahir Mohamed:

“It’s good news for Africa, and especially good news for the people of Africa who so desperately need access to affordable medicine.”

US ambassador to the WTO Linnet Deily:

“The decision will ensure that patent rules do not prevent a country that lacks capacity to produce medicines for itself from obtaining them from abroad.

At the same time, it will put appropriate safeguards in place to ensure the solution will be used only for its intended purposes...

“We have traveled a long road together from the beginning conversations pre-Doha to our conclusion today but none of us have lost the vision of our original concerns in responding to the horrific ravages that HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and other epidemics have brought to our world and particularly to the continent of Africa.

“All of us were touched yesterday when our friends from Africa reminded us of how this decision has been all about their urgent needs, and we are pleased that we have all found the means to reach out and help address those needs. I thank them personally for their patience and their understanding.”—AFP