TRIPS AND PUBLIC HEALTH

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The 15th Trade and Public Health Workshop was organized by the WTO in close collaboration with the secretariats of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). It follows on from the approach of the WHO-WIPO-WTO publication entitled “Promoting Access to Medical Technologies and Innovation: Intersections between Public Health, Intellectual Property and Trade”.

Over the last 15 years, almost 500 government officials have been trained through the workshops. The programme of the workshop has evolved to cover the linkages between trade and public health in a multidisciplinary manner, with a focus on practical experience and the implementation of a range of relevant WTO agreements. The objective is to enable officials from developing countries and least-developed countries (LDCs) to make practical and effective choices in one of the most complex policy environments.

The workshop was opened by WTO Deputy Director-General Alan Wolff, who noted that “the entry into force of the Protocol Amending the TRIPS Agreement introduced an additional public health flexibility permanently into WTO rules”. This remarkable outcome shows how the multilateral rules-based system can respond to global health concerns, he said. He underscored that “the need for partnership and cooperation becomes ever more pressing now with the development of cutting-edge health technologies, which are complex and costly, in order to ensure that the benefits of such technologies reach patients all over the world.” Read his full speech.

The workshop covered various policy dimensions with an effect on public health and how these relate to provisions of WTO agreements alongside other relevant agreements and treaties. Thirty speakers from international organizations, the private sector and civil society shared their experience and facilitated interactive debates on cross-cutting themes linking trade agreements to topical issues, such as antimicrobial resistance and gene editing. Participants contributed actively to case studies over the course of the week and benefited from a field visit to the headquarters of a manufacturer of medical devices.

Government officials from 29 developing and LDC WTO members and one observer participated in the workshop. Thirty participants who are currently working on health, trade and IP issues came from Belarus, Botswana, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Côte d'Ivoire, Cuba, Ecuador, Jamaica, Kenya, Malawi, Maldives, Mauritius, Myanmar, Nepal, Nigeria, Oman, the Philippines, the Russian Federation, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Suriname, Thailand, Togo, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Ukraine and Viet Nam. The group also included participants from the Czech Republic, Finland and the European Commission. In their feedback, participants appreciated the high quality of the workshop and set a high priority on the need to analyse and make choices in a coherent manner.

The workshop was closed by WTO Deputy Director-General Xiaozhun Yi. He noted: “Work on trade and public health is constantly evolving. Each of us, from our own action sphere, needs to contribute to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The close collaboration of colleagues from the WTO Secretariat as well as the intense cooperation with the secretariats of the World Health Organization and the World Intellectual Property Organization illustrate that benefiting from each other's expertise in a complementary fashion is the golden recipe to achieve policy coherence.” Read his full speech.

The next Trade and Public Health Workshop is envisaged to take place in November 2020. In response to demands by members, the WTO also organizes tailor-made regional activities on trade and public health. Recent activities include workshops for members from Latin America (Brazil, 21-23 November 2017), the Middle East (Kuwait, 8-22 November 2018) and the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU) member states (Senegal, 2-4 July 2019). The Secretariat is also responding to specific requests from individual members for focussed technical assistance in this and related fields.

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