Quotes from Joint Press Conference on WTO Negotiations Over Export Rules for Medicines

Oxfam, Third World Network, Medicins Sans Frontieres, Consumer Project on Technology
June 24, 2002

Ruth Mayne, Oxfam, UK

"It is unacceptable that rich countries are backsliding on their Doha commitments to find effective solutions to the problem of production for export for poor countries . This is not just a legal technical question but if not resolved properly will put the lives of millions of people at risk in the future'. This issue is about whether or not the WTO will allow a poor person in Uganda to buy drugs from the cheapest supplier. There is still time to get it right this year, as promised in Doha."

Cecilia Oh, Third World Network

"This is the opportunity for the developed countries to show that they are committed to actually living up to their promise at Doha - to get affordable medicines to people who need them. The problem is, how does the WTO enable developing countries to get affordable from any many sources as possible, and what policy benefits the developing countries that are seeking to build up a domestic industry? If for example, Malaysia or Thailand are to manufacture generic drugs, the generic producers will need a big enough market to justify the investments necessary to manufacture the drugs. The EU and the US are seeking to protect their own domestic industries, by limiting the opportunities of developing country generic producers. This harms poor consumers."

Ellen 't Hoen, MSF

"The EU is spreading disinformation about the legal issues concerning exports of medicines. If the WTO can amend the TRIPS agreement to provide a limited and ineffective change in export rules, it can also provide a more effective and more useful change. There is a lot of double talk about this issue, but at the end, it comes down to how difficult will be the WTO rules to export medicines to address public health problems. Patent owners are entitled to be compensated in countries where their products are consumed, but it does not make sense to build a global trading system that makes it impossible for small market countries to address abuses of patent rights. At the end of the day, is there political will to address the health needs in developing countries, or will the industries protect their domestic industries? "

James Love, CPTech

"The US and the European Union made a promise in Doha to implement the WTO agreement to provide "access to medicine for all," and to address a glaring flaw in the agreement, the limitation on exports when products are produced under a compulsory license. The legal issues are highly technical and complex, but the economic issues are fairly simple. If generic producers can only sell in domestic markets, they will often not have sufficient economies of scale to produce cheap drugs. Ironically, the "free trade" WTO is being used to prevent consumers from benefiting from global competition. The WTO is supposed to fix this problem, this year. The US and the European Union are now on a public relations campaign to package the smallest possible concessions as big benefits to poor consumers. This is all in the context of cases where patent owners are engaged in abusive practices, such as charging prices for medicines that are unaffordable. The US and the EU have fought to make the Doha concessions be as limited as possible, and in particularly to be complex and legalistic. There is ample evidence that poor countries have so far been unable to overcome even modest legal barriers to the use of compulsory licensing. Public health and other NGOs are asking the WTO to use Article 30 of the WTO TRIPS accord to authorize exports of medicines to address foreign public health problems. Under the system endorsed by CPTech, MSF, TWN, Oxfam, Act Up, Health Gap and others, patent owners would be protected where medicines are consumed, but medicines could be made anywhere, allowing consumers to buy from the cheapest global suppliers. The NGO's proposal is modeled after the current practice in the United States and Canada to allow exports of generic copies of medicines, under Article 30 of the TRIPS, for pre-expiration testing of medicines. The European Union challenged the Canadian practice of allowing such exports in 2000, but the Canadian export provision was upheld by the WTO. In the Canadian WTO case, it is worth repeating the point made by Canada successfully defing its own Article 30 export provision:

Very few countries had fully integrated brand name or generic drug industries within their borders. Even in large countries, generic producers frequently had to obtain ingredients such as fine chemicals from producers in other countries. Many countries had no generic industries at all and had to obtain generic (as well as brand name) products from other countries. Smaller countries that did have generic industries did not have domestic markets sufficiently large to enable those industries to operate on an economic scale. Those industries had to export in order to be able to manufacture in sufficient quantities to achieve economies of scale, so that domestic consumers could receive the benefits of cost-effective generic products.

"It is also important to emphasize that the US and the EU are seeking to prevent their own consumers from benefiting from post Doha rules on exports. They are doing this to prevent poor countries from being suppliers to rich countries in cases of abuses of patent rights. This is ironic, because in the Cipro case, the US was prepared to import generic drugs from Indian suppliers. This case was quite important in the getting the Doha declaration. Now the US government want to close off this opportunity to consumers in the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and every European country. The US and Europe are also complaining about profits from exporting countries such as China, India or Brazil. But if Brazil had not imported cheap HIV drugs from India and China, Africa today would not have access to low cost HIV drugs. Poor consumers benefit from the largest and most competitive generic market, and it is cynical and wrong to imply otherwise. The US and the EU should fix the export issue, and they should abandon their protectionist support for their domestic export industries, and make sure that consumers worldwide can protect themselves from abuses of patent rights, when such abuses occur.

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