WTO news: what’s been happening in the WTO

20 June  2001

Moore: countries must feel secure that they can use TRIPS' flexibility

WTO Director-General Mike Moore issued the following statement on the TRIPS Council's special discussion, “Intellectual Property and Access to Medicines”, 20 June 2001:

I welcome this special discussion on “intellectual property and access to medicines” in the WTO TRIPS Council. The meeting is vitally important for a number of reasons.

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.

Therefore, I fully support the initiative launched by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to raise $7–$10 billion a year to fight against the ravages of HIV/AIDS. While this is a vast sum, it should be pointed out that the figure represents about 12 days worth of farm subsidies paid by OECD member governments.

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.

Countries must feel secure that they can use this flexibility. The work started today in the TRIPS Council should reinforce that security.

But nothing is perfect. We should be confident enough to be ready to see if improvements are needed. Inside a new series of negotiations, anything can be improved.

The meeting underscores the on-going commitment that the WTO and its member governments have made to face the public health challenge, both inside and outside the WTO.

In April the secretariats of the WTO and World Health Organization collaborated in holding a workshop of experts in Norway, with the help of the Norwegian government, on two highly important topics: how to price medicines so that patients in poor countries can afford them — in particular by creating favourable conditions for “differential pricing” — and how to support this with financing. The workshop has received a considerable amount of interest, and the WTO and WHO have worked hard to make available to the public all the papers presented there — almost all of them are now on both of our websites.

The WTO and World Intellectual Property Organization have also just announced a new initiative to provide technical assistance so that least-developed countries are better placed to use intellectual property protection for their economic and social development — which naturally includes public health — and to implement the TRIPS Agreement by 2006.