WTO: 2014 NEWS ITEMS

24-28 November 2014

TECHNICAL COOPERATION : WORKSHOP ON TRADE AND PUBLIC HEALTH

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As with previous workshops, this latest event was organized by the WTO Secretariat in close collaboration with the Secretariats of World Health Organization (WHO) and World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO). It aimed to build national policymakers’ capacity to analyse policy choices in areas where trade, intellectual property (IP) and public health all play a part. This would be achieved through a thorough understanding of policy issues in those areas and their relationship with the WTO’s multilateral trade agreements.

The topics covered included access to medical technologies and innovation in the field, and wider trade and health policies.

“In line with the more recent discussions that we have witnessed in the TRIPS [Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights] Council and elsewhere, the outcome of past workshops has, however, highlighted the need to move from a highly specialized training towards a capacity building activity that looks at trade and public health in a more holistic manner,” Deputy Director-General Yi Xiaozhun said in his opening remarks.

“By doing so, the Workshop responds to the more complex policy environment that decision-makers, as many of you are, are required to work with in preparing practical responses to contemporary challenges in the field of public health. This is impressively documented by the mere number of topics that more than 40 speakers have been asked to cover in the course of this week.”

This latest in a series of events that began in 2005 broadly followed the approach developed in the WHO-WIPO-WTO trilateral study “Promoting Access to Medical Technologies and Innovation: Intersections between public health, intellectual property and trade”.

The workshop was therefore intended for policymakers who already had a high level practical understanding of some aspects of trade, intellectual property and health policy, with continuing responsibilities for assessing policy options related to public health.

 

What it covered

The workshop responded to the more complex policy environment that these policymakers are required to work with in shaping practical responses to contemporary public health challenges. As a programme tailored for senior policymakers, it included a combination of expert presentations, interactive debate and case studies, as well as selected presentations from among the participants.

It reviewed the system of multilateral trade agreements as part of the wider action to address needs specific to public health.

Key features of the program included:

  • public health determinants
  • the intellectual property system
  • pricing and procurement policies
  • competition policy and rules
  • tariffs, quotas and licensing
  • health services
  • and regulatory issues, including approval, quality control and effectiveness of medicines, the protection of clinical trial data under the TRIPS Agreement, and health-related measures in the WTO’s committees dealing with Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT, which deals with product standards, regulations and labelling) and Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS, ie, food safety and animal and plant health)

The workshop included a series of discussions on specific, cross-cutting themes linking trade agreements to topical issues, such as non-communicable diseases, environment and health, and nutrition.

Exercises and case studies set these issues in a practical context, requiring participants to examine key thematic issues. These included designing an intellectual property framework in support of research and development, considering industry policy issues, local production of medicines and technology transfer, the use of intellectual property flexibilities in order to procure medicines, the application of competition policy tools and their impact on public health objectives, and the drafting of health-related TBT or SPS measures.

Participants were supported by experts in strengthening several practical skills: how to analyse and give effect to trade agreements and to assess and implement the policy options they provide for; how to access and make use of information about their implementation; and how to deal with the linkages of trade agreements with the domestic legislative and institutional framework.

They had ample opportunity to exchange views and experiences with one another, with WHO, WIPO and WTO experts, and with representatives from other international organizations, with representatives from industry and the NGO sector, and with medicines procurement programmes.

The 30 participants mainly came both from health and trade ministries, as well as from intellectual property offices. Representatives of the following countries were present: Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Brazil, Bulgaria, Cameroon, China, Côte d'Ivoire, Cuba, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Iran, Laos, Malawi, Mexico, Morocco, Nigeria, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Philippines, Samoa, Sri Lanka, Swaziland, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Uganda, United States, Uzbekistan and Viet Nam.

These are some of their comments:

  • “I am impressed with all the speakers that have great international expertise to share with participants. This was the most valuable workshop that I have ever attended.”
  • “I hope that this kind of workshops could be organized more often. The cooperation between the WTO, WHO  and WIPO is very welcomed.”
  • “It was really pleasant to hear representatives from WTO, WHO and WIPO sharing the same goals, but approaching the subject from different perspectives. In my opinion, this is the right way to do it.”
  • “This workshop was timely and very rich in thoughts.”

 

Opening remarks: Deputy Director-General Yi Xiaozhun

I have asked my services to look into the possibility of organizing a similar workshop in early July 2015.
The idea would be to have the WHO, WIPO and the WTO jointly organize a public conference on the first day of that workshop

I am pleased to welcome you at the WTO for what will certainly be a very dense programme to which you will be exposed in the course of this week, but hopefully also an inspiring training activity that can assist you in your day-to-day work back in capital. It is very encouraging to see that it has been possible to bring together such an eminent group of experts both from capitals and missions in Geneva, often in decision-making positions, who have in-depth knowledge of the many dimensions that are directly relevant for the interface between trade and health.

The Workshop on Trade and Public Health forms an integral part of the WTO’s Technical Assistance and Training Plan 2014-15. It has been conceived in order to build your capacity to analyse policy choices where trade, intellectual property and public health come together to achieve the best possible outcome for public health. This week’s programme therefore aims at providing you with the most comprehensive understanding of the various policy dimensions as they affect public health, and how these relate to multilateral trade agreements.

The idea of looking at public health as it relates to other policy dimensions is, of course, not new. For the past nine years, the WTO has organized similar workshops, looking specifically at the issues located at the crossroad between intellectual property and public health. This Workshop can therefore build on the experience of the series of earlier activities organized by the WTO Secretariat since 2005.

In line with the more recent discussions that we have witnessed in the TRIPS Council and elsewhere, the outcome of past workshops has, however, highlighted the need to move from a highly specialized training towards a capacity building activity that looks at trade and public health in a more holistic manner. By doing so, the Workshop responds to the more complex policy environment that decision-makers, as many of you are, are required to work with in preparing practical responses to contemporary challenges in the field of public health. This is impressively documented by the mere number of topics that more than 40 speakers have been asked to cover in the course of this week.

While much of the emphasis of this week’s programme still is on access and innovation in relation to medical technologies, you will thus notice the inclusion of an important number of wider trade and health policy matters. These include public health determinants, pricing and procurement policies, competition policy and rules, tariffs, health services, health-related measures under the TBT and SPS Agreements, as well as regulatory issues to ensure access to safe, high quality and effective medicines. All of these aspects need to be adequately addressed in order to provide you with an operational set of tools and options that will allow you to address concrete problems back home.

As you will have noted in the programme, the Workshop has been put together and will be delivered in close collaboration with our sister organizations, the World Health Organization and the World Intellectual Property Organization. I am proud to say that the three collaborating agencies have recently made huge efforts to consolidate the most pertinent material relating to the interface between trade and public health, in particular as regards access to medical technologies and innovation in the pharmaceutical sector.

These efforts are conceived to support our respective capacity building activities which are now based on a better informed factual background. They are made in recognition of the complementary role played by the three organizations that needs to be equally mirrored at domestic level through collaboration between different government departments in charge of health, trade or intellectual property.

Among the fruits of this intense collaboration is the WHO-WIPO-WTO Study on “Promoting Access to Medical Technologies and Innovation: Intersections between Public Health, Intellectual Property and Trade” that was launched by the three organizations in February 2013. It emphasizes the need to adopt a holistic and coherent approach and consequently looks at a wide range of relevant tools and instruments. The study is a continuation of the spirit and letter of the Doha Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health insofar as it elaborates on the flexibilities clarified therein, but also reaffirms the strength of today’s collaboration of the three key international organizations dealing with the interface between health, trade and intellectual property.

In addition, the series of technical symposia which have been jointly organized by the WHO, WIPO and the WTO complement these efforts. Since 2010, they have shed light on a range of topical issues, such as pricing and procurement policies, patent information and freedom to operate, changing business models in medical innovation and, as recently as in November this year, challenges and opportunities for middle-income countries with respect to innovation of and access to medical technologies.

Last but not least, let me also say a few words about activities of this kind that we are planning for next year. Depending on the outcome of this Workshop and therefore also on your feedback, I have asked my services to look into the possibility of organizing a similar workshop in early July 2015. The idea would be to have the three collaborating agencies, that is the WHO, WIPO and the WTO, jointly organize a public conference on the first day of that workshop. This would offer participants a unique opportunity to attend a debate with high level speakers who will be asked to shed light on selected topical issues. The remaining four days would provide participants with an opportunity to deepen their knowledge at a more technical level, based on a revised version of the programme for this Workshop.

Let me conclude by wishing you an informative week that will expose you to many key questions regarding trade agreements and public health. Given the breadth of issues to be covered, you will not have time to discuss all of them in a very detailed fashion. Therefore, you should regard this training activity only as the beginning of continuing efforts that are required in order to approach these questions from a multidimensional perspective. I encourage you to continue to deepen your knowledge and to share it with other colleagues upon your return to capital. This will surely contribute to the achievement of the most satisfactory outcomes for public health and other relevant policy dimensions in your respective countries.

 

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