A senior U.S. trade official said Tuesday that the Bush administration's opposition to a World Trade Organization agreement that would allow developing countries access to generic versions of patented drugs would likely not change, which could prevent a final agreement from ever taking effect. Ambassadors from 143 of 144 nations on December 20 backed an agreement that would allow developing countries to manufacture or import cheap, generic medications for conditions like HIV/AIDS and malaria, but the United States opposed the agreement because it insisted on inclusion of language limiting the drug access to treat only certain infectious diseases.
Some U.S. officials worry that generic-drug makers in India and Brazil could create generic versions of "lucrative" patented drugs that are not used to treat illnesses, including Viagra, if the agreement is not more specific. Limiting the agreement to certain infectious diseases would help protect U.S. pharmaceutical company patents on most non-disease-related drugs.
International officials have blasted the U.S. opposition to the plan, including government officials from European countries that are also home to large pharmaceutical companies. French president Jacques Chirac on Tuesday called the U.S. position "selfish" during a speech to the diplomatic corps at a New Year's reception, Agence France-Presse reports. South African chief trade negotiator Xavier Carim told South African newspaper Business Day that the U.S. position "undermines the agenda of the WTO. It is a bit worrying that one country can block consensus when others have made an assessment of where we can go." Other officials say the U.S. position could foster animosity toward the United States, which could directly affect future WTO programs.
WTO representatives are scheduled to meet again in February to discuss the issue.