Third World Network: Geneva July 28, 2001


The TRIPS Council held an informal one-day meeting on TRIPS and public health on July 25. At this meeting, a group of about 50 developing countries issued a joint statement, asking the TRIPS Council Chairman to initiate a process of identifying key elements to be included in the Doha Ministerial Declaration. The joint statement identified “vital” elements, which the developing countries want reflected in the Ministerial Declaration, and called for a focused debate to achieve consensus as soon as possible.

The US has taken a hardline approach, opposing this proposal, and even asking for proof that the TRIPS Agreement and patent protection were indeed causing problems. Switzerland has also indicated its opposition to the proposal. Both countries have said that discussions and proposals on TRIPS and public health should be restricted to HIV/AIDS alone.

Trade diplomats from developing countries are both frustrated and infuriated by this attempt to stall progress on the TRIPS and public health debate. They say now, more than ever, public opinion will be needed to push the process forward, but some diplomats have expressed concern that there seemed to be less momentum in civil society campaigns.

Please find below a report on the July 25 meeting. Also attached is the developing country statement, made by the Africa Group on behalf of the developing countries.



Report by Cecilia Oh in Geneva, 27 July 2001

The US is blocking developing countries’ efforts to address the negative impact of the TRIPS Agreement on access to medicines, by attempting to restrict on-going discussions in the WTO to only the HIV/AIDS problem.

The hardline approach infuriated the developing country negotiators, who say that the US is trying to stall their efforts to start a process of identifying key issues for a decision by trade Ministers at the Doha Ministerial Conference in November.

The US position was put forward at a one-day meeting on 25 July of the WTO’s TRIPS Council to discuss the TRIPS and public health issue.  This meeting was a follow up to the special meeting on the same theme on 20 June.

The US said that it is opposed to proposals to have trade Ministers in Doha affirm an understanding that the TRIPS Agreement does not prevent countries from taking measures, such as compulsory licensing and parallel imports, to ensure access to medicines and protect public health. Switzerland has also made it known that it will not support such a proposal.

During 25 July meeting, the majority of developing countries had asked the TRIPS Council chairman to initiate a process to identify issues to be included in the Doha Ministerial Declaration. At this meeting, the Africa Group and some other developing countries from Asia and Latin America called on “all delegations to set out in specific terms what they would want to see done in the period leading up to Doha, and at Doha, regarding the TRIPS Agreement and its impact on access to affordable medicines”.

The developing countries (including those 50 countries that had earlier submitted a joint statement to the TRIPS Council at the Special Discussion on TRIPS and Public Health on June 20) put forward their position at the 25 July meeting in a joint statement read on their behalf by Tadeous Chifamba of the Zimbabwe Mission, which currently chairs the Africa Group in the WTO.

The statement identified 6 elements on TRIPS and public health, which the developing countries considered vital to be included in the Doha Declaration: (1) the use of Articles 7 and 8 in the interpretation of all provisions in the TRIPS Agreement; (2) the right of countries to determine the grounds on which compulsory licenses may be issued; (3) recognition of compulsory licenses issued to a foreign manufacturer; (4) the right to parallel importation; (5) a moratorium on all dispute actions aimed at preventing or limiting access to medicines, or protection of public health; and (6) extension of transition periods for developing and least developed countries.

Individual countries taking the floor expressed strong support for the Africa Group statement, included Brazil, Bolivia on behalf of the Andean countries (i.e., Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela), Egypt, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines.

Brazil, in its statement, said that there was need “to structure and focus the debate on issues where there was common ground”, noting that some of these had already been identified in the Africa Group statement. Brazil also suggested the drafting of a separate Declaration on TRIPS and public health, in order to “demonstrate the emphasis that Members attribute to the issue”.

Norway was supportive of the call for to identify of elements for the Doha Declaration, while the EC said it was willing to continue discussions on the matter.

However, the US objected, once again refusing to acknowledge that there were legitimate concerns about the impact of TRIPS implementation on access to medicines and reiterating its position that the TRIPS Agreement afforded flexibility to countries to meet health care objectives. In this connection, the US had said it was unable to understand the problems and concerns of developing countries arising from TRIPS implementation, and asked for proof that patent protection did have negative impacts on access to medicines. The US representative was reported to have said that, “for as long you cannot come up with concrete examples, we remain unconvinced of the problem”.

After the meeting, many developing country diplomats expressed frustration at the US’s intransigence. A number of them said that the withdrawal of its dispute action against Brazil has enabled the US to take this hardline position, as it could then use the fact of the withdrawal to support its argument that the TRIPS Agreement does not pose a problem for public health or access to medicines.

Concluding the meeting, TRIPS Council Chairman, Amb. Boniface Chidyausiku of Zimbabwe, said that he would hold consultations on the issues raised, to prepare for the next TRIPS Council meeting in September. He identified 4 sets of issues, which would form the basis of his consultations. These were: (1) the principles and objectives of TRIPS set out Article 7 & 8; (2) issues related to the grant of compulsory licences; (3) parallel importation measures, and (4) a moratorium or due restraint on dispute settlement actions.

The US, EU and Switzerland raised objections to discussing the issue of moratorium or due restraint within the TRIPS Council, on the grounds that the TRIPS Council did not have the necessary mandate to deal with this “political” issue. They said that the General Council would be the appropriate forum to address the issue. On this point, Amb. Chidyausiku said he would consult with the General Council Chairman.

The following day (July 26), WTO Members met in a General Council informal consultation on TRIPS, where the US said that it understood that when developing countries called for action on TRIPS and public health, it was limited only to the question of HIV/AIDS. Sources also said that Switzerland had privately approached African diplomats to say that they would have difficulties with expanding the discussions to other diseases.

Another session of the TRIPS Council will continue the “special discussion” of the TRIPS and health issue on September 19.