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April 5, 2013

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April 5, 2013

The poorest countries are under renewed threat from WTO rules on access to medicines (and yes, this is 2013)

April 5, 2013
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This week is acquiring an oddly retro flavour. Wednesday had me reminiscing about the Access to Medicines campaign of the last decade. Now it turnsWTO logo_lite_en out that the issues it raised have recently erupted again. In short, the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) are trying to get another extension to be free from implementing the WTO’s Intellectual Property (TRIPs) agreement. The current stay of execution, agreed in 2005, is coming to an end in June this year and the LDCs have put forward a very sensible  proposal asking for a waiver until they graduate from LDC status, so that they don’t have to bother any more with artificial deadlines.

So far, Oxfam trade warriors are lobbying hard and more than 300 groups have signed a joint NGO letter to WTO Members, because access to medicines, educational resources, seeds or climate change adaptation technologies could all be affected if these countries were to implement the TRIPs agreement any time soon. There are many other reasons why they should not have to implement TRIPs: WTO members owe this to them after failing to deliver on their other promises in the Doha Round (see what I mean about retro?); LDCs don’t have to make any commitments under the parallel agreements on Agriculture and on Non-Agricultural Market Access (NAMA – ah, a wonk’s nostalgia for the acronyms of youth!), so why should they have to implement TRIPs? And anyway, as Ha-Joon Chang has exhaustively documented, all developed countries were IP pirates when they were at a similar stage of development.

Access_India_FTARallyGroup_Gustav_2011_MSF108663The LDC proposal has strong support from other developing countries including the BRICS. In addition, UNDP, UNAIDS and WHO have spoken in favour of the extension. And so has the industry through the CCIA (international IT lobby group, representing Google, Facebook and Microsoft). But (surprise, surprise) the EU, US, Japan and Canada are doing their best to water down the proposal, proposing a short term extension instead, or to include a ‘no roll back clause’, or to differentiate between LDCs. They freely admit in private that they have no economic interest but are pushing this for ideological reasons. Plus ca change.

More background from IPWatch. [h/t Romain Bennichio]


  1. This is very disappointing. What happened to the commitments made by development partners at LDC IV in 2011? In addition the Istanbul Programme of Action aims to help half of the LDCs graduate by 2020, therefore for half of the LDCs there is in theory an end date for this extension.

  2. Hi Duncan,

    I would appreciate it if you could give me further insight into something touched on in your post (but off the primary topic).

    When those that have the ability to influence WTO rules do so not out of “economic interest” but “for ideological reasons”, which of the following is happening?

    (A) They really just want certain principles and visions to shape the way the world works. The realization of their ideology is valued as an “end-in-itself”.
    (B) They want to shape the world according to a certain ideology because doing so will serve their economic interest in the long run.
    (C) They are actually (although not necessarily consciously) just afraid of change. Their “ideological reasons” are fronts for wanting the status-quo to carry the day.


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