Scrambling to undo public relations damage resulting when U.S. officials single-handedly blocked approval of a World Trade Organization plan that would allow poor countries to make or import cheap generic medications, the Bush administration has announced it will temporarily allow nations to override American drug company patents, The Wall Street Journal reports. U.S. trade representative Robert Zoellick announced Monday that developing nations will be permitted to make or import generic drugs used to treat HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, and other serious health problems while WTO officials continue to refine the blueprint for a more permanent program. WTO representatives will begin meeting again in January with a goal of reaching an agreement by February 11.
WTO members agreed in November 2001 that poor countries should, under international rules, be able to produce their own generics to deal with public health emergencies, without permission from the companies that hold the patents. Many poor nations, however, argued they did not have the industrial capacity to produce quality drugs, and they asked that they be allowed to import generics. WTO members pledged to resolve that issue by the end of 2002. The talks collapsed, however, when U.S. officials insisted on language in the agreement that would limit the program only to certain infectious diseases. The United States was the only country to vote against the final WTO proposal on December 20.