Cambodia: A Backhanded Welcome to the WTO

Excerpt from MSF Briefing Paper Doha Derailed
August 27, 2003

The case of Cambodia provides a telling example of doubletalking around the Doha Declaration by some wealthy Members. In early 2003 Cambodia’s legislature adopted a new law that excluded pharmaceutical products from patent protection until 2016, explicitly citing the Doha Declaration as justification.* While this legislation was initially considered an excellent example of Doha implementation, it has apparently since been compromised during closed-door negotiations in Geneva for Cambodia’s accession to the WTO. Under pressure from the US, Cambodia has evidently agreed to implement TRIPS in 2007, while immediately linking drug registration approval with patent status and granting 5 years of data exclusivity—measures that will hinder or delay generic availability, and that are not required by TRIPS (see more on these two legal provisions in “Extra Burdens” on page 4). Having recently emerged from years of civil war, Cambodia is one of the poorest nations in the world: it is a Least- Developed Country with a per capita gross national income (GNI) of US$270, and a rank of 130 on the Human Development Index.

MSF has been working in Cambodia since 1989 and currently runs projects treating malaria and HIV/AIDS; on the ground, we know that the public health challenges that Cambodia already faces will only get worse with more stringent intellectual property protection on medicines.

The case of Cambodia’s accession not only demonstrates how some Members are completely disregarding their Doha commitments, but also sets a dangerous precedent for other developing countries wishing to join the WTO.

* Article 136, Law on the Patents, Utility Model Certificates, and Industrial Designs, Cambodia.

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