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WTO approves deal over cheap medicines
Agencies | August 30, 2003 15:21 IST
After first accepting and then rejecting it, the World Trade Organisation on Saturday finally resolved the controversial issue of allowing poor nations to import cheap copies of patented drugs to fight killer diseases like AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.
The deal will benefit millions of people in the poor and developing nations who can now access cheaper copies of vital medicines.
The WTO's general council has given its nod to the agreement, which has been a long-standing matter of dispute between nations.
"This is a historic agreement for the WTO," Director-General Supachai Panitchpakdi said.
"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," Supachai said.
"Several minutes ago, the (WTO's) general council took one of its most important decisions," spokesman Keith Rockwell said.
"This is a historic agreement for the WTO," said the organisation's director-general Supachai Panitchpakdi.
"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 organisation can handle humanitarian as well as trade concerns," he was quoted as saying by news agencies.
Initially, on Thursday, reports said that the WTO members had reached an accord on the drugs issue and accepted the deal on making patented drugs easily accessible to developing countries. But, minutes after arriving at an agreement, WTO members fell apart and failed to seal the deal.
The deal, which had been reached in Geneva August 28 following an agreement between the United States, Brazil, India, Kenya and South Africa over the contentious issue, abruptly fell through. A spokesman for the WTO, Keith Rockwell, was reported as saying that a last-minute hitch has put paid to the talks. "There is no deal. We need more time. More consultations are required," he said.
The United States had been opposing such a deal for long, citing fears that the proposal, if cleared, could throw open the doors to Indian and Brazilian pharmaceutical companies which produce generic drugs.
The US feels this would lead to a flooding of the markets with cheap medicines and hit the patent-holders' bottomlines adversely.
Indian pharmaceutical companies, meanwhile, have tried to play down the development. An official of the Indian Pharmaceutical Alliance said the move would not affect Indian generic drug makers as their generic exports to poor countries form a very small portion of their overall business.
A pharma sector analyst with a Mumbai-based domestic brokerage, said: "Indian and Brazilian companies, which are the biggest players in the generics arena, will benefit the most from this."
The world trade body can now prepare for the WTO's ministerial meeting in Cancun, Mexico September 10 to 14. Ministers at the conference have the huge task bridging the wide gap between the developing and the developed world over the matter of agricultural trade.
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