U.S. holds out on WTO low-cost drugs agreement

By Advocate.com Editors

Originally published on Advocate.com December 18 2002 1:00 AM ET

U.S. officials on Monday refused to agree to a third draft of a World Trade Organization agreement that would allow developing nations to manufacture or import cheap, generic versions of patented medication over concerns that the wording of the agreement is too vague. The third draft of the agreement, introduced by Mexican representative Eduardo Perez Motta, had the support of the nearly all of the other WTO representatives meeting in Geneva--officials from Switzerland refused to say whether they back the new draft--but Bush administration officials still had difficulty with the wording of the document.

The text says that generic drugs can be used to combat "public health problems," especially "those resulting from HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, and other epidemics." Bush administration officials want the language changed so that the document specifically covers only "infectious" diseases under the "other epidemics" provision in order to protect pharmaceutical company patents on drugs to treat cancer and other noninfectious diseases.

In November 2001, a WTO working group approved a declaration stating that developing nations can override patent protections to manufacture or import generic medications during public health emergencies, but WTO members have been unable to agree on the exact terms of the agreement. Talks are scheduled to continue this week as the WTO attempts to meet a December 31 deadline to reach an agreement on the plan.