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WTO gives poor states access to drugs

The World Trade Organization (WTO) has proposed to make permanent a ‘temporary waiver’ under its agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).

The waiver, in some cases, allows countries to export copies of patented drugs for which the patent holder has not sold a license. Originally formulated in 2003, the rule is intended to give poor countries access to cheap drugs from abroad.

The original TRIPS agreement, in effect since 1995, gave governments the right to take a ‘compulsory license’ on a drug’s patent, for instance, to control critical public health threats. However, the agreement only allowed the production of cheap generics for domestic markets, leaving the poorest countries, with no pharmaceutical facilities, out in the cold. The 2003 waiver permits WTO member countries to take a compulsory license on a patented drug, produce a generic version and export it to a third country if certain conditions are met. As with all compulsory licenses, the patent holder would be entitled to ‘adequate remuneration.’ The temporary waiver will become permanent if two-thirds of WTO’s member states ratify the recent decision before December 1, 2007.

On December 1, 2005, the Brussels-based European Parliament moved to bring the EU’s regulation in line with the change. The EU Council of Ministers has yet to give final consent.


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