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Geneva, 22 June 2001

TRIPS COUNCIL MEETING ON ACCESS TO MEDICINES

WTO members to press on, following ‘rich debate’ on medicines

WTO member governments have agreed to examine in greater detail the issues raised in their first special discussion on Intellectual Property and Access to Medicines on 20 June 2001, a meeting that the chairperson, Ambassador Boniface Chidyausiku of Zimbabwe described as “rich”.

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> Fact sheet on TRIPS and pharmaceuticals
> Technical explanation on
TRIPS and pharmaceuticals
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Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS)


“This was a rich discussion, with over 40 detailed and thoughtful presentations. These presentations reflected the views of many more than 40 countries because several were made on behalf of groups of countries, including the least-developed countries, the African Group, the European Union, and ASEAN,” Ambassador Chidyausiku said today, 22 June 2001.

“I think I can safely say that all members are determined to ensure that the TRIPS Agreement is part of the solution and not part of the problem of meeting the public health crises in poor countries. That includes the HIV/AIDS crisis in my own continent of Africa, but HIV/AIDs is by no means the only problem,” he said.

Ambassador Chidyausiku was speaking after WTO members agreed on next steps in the discussion:

The TRIPS Council will continue to discuss this, but in a more structured and systematic way. That means looking at the relevant issues, topic by topic. Specifically,

  • First, the WTO Secretariat will compile a checklist of all the TRIPS provisions that are relevant, and the issues that were identified in connection with them.

  • Second, the chairperson will hold an informal meeting on 25 July. This will be the first opportunity for a discussion based on this checklist.

  • Third, a full day will be set aside for the next formal discussion in the TRIPS Council. For this reason, 19 September has been added to the next regular session originally scheduled for 20–21 September.

Earlier, WTO Director-General Mike Moore described the discussion as an opportunity for member governments to feel secure that they can use the flexibility that is written into the TRIPS Agreement.

“The crisis of disease facing developing countries is dire. Every year malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS kill around 6 million people, almost all of them in the developing world. As I have said before, these premature deaths are a reproach to us all. They are also a huge blow to countries’ hopes for development. Urgently, more needs to be done to save the lives of millions of poor people,” Mr Moore said in a statement.

He went on: “The WTO’s TRIPS Agreement plays a vital role in tackling these problems. It strikes a carefully-negotiated balance between providing intellectual property protection — which is essential if new medicines and treatments are to be developed — and allowing countries the flexibility to ensure that treatments reach the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people.”

(The full text of Mr Moore’s statement along with details of the TRIPS Council’s discussion, can be found here)

The special discussion on Intellectual Property and Access to Medicines was one item on the agenda of the regular meeting of the WTO Council for Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) in the week of 18–22 June 2001. It was held at the request of the African Group, i.e. all African members of the WTO.



Chairperson’s speaking notes for press conference,
22 June 2001
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This is the text of the chairperson’s speaking notes at a press conference on 22 June 2001:

TRIPS COUNCIL WEDNESDAY 20 JUNE 2001
INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY AND ACCESS TO MEDICINES


Many thanks for coming to this press conference.

I would first like to make a brief statement and then Mr. Otten, Director of the WTO Secretariat’s Intellectual Property Division, I will be ready to answer your questions.

As you know, the TRIPS Council had a special discussion on intellectual property and access to medicines on Wednesday (20 June 2001). Since you have all been briefed on what happened, I’ll start by updating you on today’s developments. 

The TRIPS Council discussed this morning what to do next. It’s clear that all members see Wednesday’s session on as the start of a process. Some WTO members made it clear that they see the Doha Ministerial Conference as an important part of this process.

This is what was decided: 

The TRIPS Council will continue to discuss this, but in a more structured and systematic way. That means looking at the relevant issues, topic by topic. Specifically,

  • First, the WTO Secretariat will compile a checklist of all the TRIPS provisions that are relevant, and the issues that were identified in connection with them.

  • Second, I will hold an informal meeting on 25 July. This will be the first opportunity for a discussion based on this checklist.

  • Third, a full day will be set aside for the next formal discussion in the TRIPS Council. For this reason, 19 September has been added to the next regular session originally scheduled for 20–21 September.

I would now like to share with you some observations about the Council’s discussion on Wednesday.

This was a rich discussion, with over 40 detailed and thoughtful presentations. These presentations reflected the views of many more than 40 countries because several were made on behalf of groups of countries, including the least-developed countries, the African Group, the European Union, and ASEAN.

My assessment is the following. It is based on my contacts with delegates after the meeting and our discussion this morning. So I believe that this is a generally shared view. I think all delegations were positive and constructive. There were some differences of view, but I think I can safely say that all members are determined to ensure that the TRIPS Agreement is part of the solution and not part of the problem of meeting the public health crises in poor countries. That includes the HIV/AIDS crisis in my own continent of Africa, but HIV/AIDs is by no means the only problem.

The discussion on Wednesday was not an occasion for attacking the TRIPS Agreement or the patent system. Members recognize that patents are important for public health policies because they provide incentives for research and development into new drugs. They recognize that the TRIPS Agreement’s rules are important in this connection.

At the same time, members said they are committed to ensuring that the TRIPS Agreement does not stand in the way of access to existing drugs, especially in the poorest countries.

In this connection, we had much discussion of the flexibility available in the TRIPS Agreement. A large number of provisions of the TRIPS Agreement were referred to. Those dealing with compulsory licensing and parallel imports were the most frequently mentioned. Many delegations said that the TRIPS Agreement could provide sufficient flexibility to enable public health needs to be met, if it is properly interpreted and applied.

However, there were concerns that sometimes these provisions are interpreted too narrowly and that sometimes countries come under undue pressure not make full use of the flexibility that the TRIPS Agreement provides for them. Important reassurances in recognizing the rights of countries to use these provisions to the full were given.

Therefore, one of the Council’s major tasks in the coming months will be to seek common understandings of the flexibility in the TRIPS Agreement, so as to ensure that all members have the necessary sense of security and legal certainty that enables them to use these provisions to the full.

Some speakers from developing countries said that if the flexibility in the TRIPS Agreement proves to be insufficient, they need to make proposals to modify the Agreement, in order to increase its flexibility. 

As you know, some delegations have also suggested for members should refrain from using the WTO dispute settlement procedure in cases related to TRIPS and public health. Some have also called for transition periods to be extended in this area.

So, for the future, the TRIPS Council now has its intensive work programme. It will systematically examine all the provisions and issues that were raised with a view to clarifying the flexibility available under the TRIPS Agreement. It is also clear that there will be discussions, both in the TRIPS Council and as part of the preparations for the Doha Ministerial Conference in November, about the sort of declaration that ministers should make on this issue.

In conclusion, I am pleased with the way the discussion went on Wednesday and with the decisions reached on how this process should be carried forward. I am impressed by the commitment all members showed to tackling the issue in a positive and constructive manner.

END