> Roberto Azevêdo’s speeches
Special Representative Fukuda,
Ladies and gentlemen,
I am delighted to join you today for this year’s trilateral symposium.
With this 6th joint seminar we are building an impressive track record of collaboration.
I am sure today’s event will contribute to this growing partnership. It will also improve our dialogue and collaboration with the wider multilateral system. On that point, I’m particularly pleased that Director-General Eloit from the OIE is joining us this morning.
The issue before us today is how we can respond to the global challenge of antimicrobial resistance.
And I think that this topic reflects the collaborative and inclusive nature of these symposia.
In dealing with a complex global health challenge such as that of antimicrobial resistance, the response must be joined-up.
It must rely on a wide range of empirical data and sound policy analysis.
And it must be global.
So this ongoing dialogue and coordination between our three organizations, and with our other multilateral partners, is essential.
Modern antibiotics have had a huge impact on public health.
The availability of antibiotics has offered treatment for countless infections and diseases. Many lives have been saved thanks to innovation and drug discovery in this field.
However, we know that the misuse of antibiotics can lead to the evolution of new, more resistant pathogens.
This poses a major risk to public health systems, as resistant pathogens can evolve far more rapidly than our capacity to respond.
This is a threat to everyone, but it plays out in very different ways across the globe. Certain countries are less exposed than others because of their successful infection control programs in hospitals. Elsewhere, the problems may be more severe.
In many countries people lack appropriate access to antibiotics. Access even to affordable generics remains limited in many places. And, as is so often the case, those with the fewest resources are likely to be the hardest hit.
Faced with this complex challenge, we all have a responsibility to act.
We must ensure that effective antibiotics reach those in need.
We must ensure they are used rationally, so as not to exacerbate the development of new, resistant pathogens.
And we must ensure that innovation systems support the development of new antibiotics.
In meeting these challenges I am encouraged that there is a strong political will for constructive work across the international system.
Last year, the Global Action Plan on Antimicrobial Resistance was adopted, providing a basis for a collective response.
That plan emphasises the need to improve awareness of the optimal use of antimicrobial medicines. It also highlights the importance of increased investment in new medicines and diagnostics.
And recently, further steps in international cooperation have been taken.
Last month, in New York, the United Nations held a High Level Meeting on Antimicrobial Resistance.
The message from that meeting was very clear.
They recognized that antimicrobial resistance poses a fundamental threat to human health, security and development. Indeed, a significant proliferation of resistant pathogens could pose a range of obstacles to the new Sustainable Development Agenda.
And they recognized that the response needs to be comprehensive, and united.
As the president of the UN general assembly observed, no single country, sector or organisation can address this issue alone.
And so the political declaration from that meeting sent a strong signal for action across the multilateral system.
Today’s event was conceived and planned as a practical follow-up to that high-level meeting.
Our aim is to deepen this discussion at the intersection of health, intellectual property and trade.
I hope that it can also help clarify the issues that permeate our three organisations, and help identify paths for new, practical responses. In addition, I hope that it will help build networks across the multilateral system and with the full range of policy communities engaged by this issue.
This collaborative approach is consistent with our shared responsibilities to work together towards the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals.
Looking specifically at trade, it’s clear to me that the WTO has an important role to play in helping face the challenges of antimicrobial resistance.
There are two main ways in which we can help.
First, we can help by supporting better access to the necessary medicines.
The bulk of the world’s population depends on international trade for access to current and new generations of antibiotics. Last year, 24,000 tonnes of antibiotics were imported globally, worth 11.7 billion dollars.
Eliminating trade barriers can help to ensure that more people have access to affordable medicines.
In recent years, the WTO took important steps to reform the global trading system, which can make a difference here.
The WTO’s Trade Facilitation Agreement, concluded in 2013, will tackle red tape and cumbersome border procedures.
In fact, it helps to expedite the clearance of perishable and refrigerated goods, including medicines.
So we must continue working to implement this Agreement.
Another important reform is the amendment to the WTO TRIPS Agreement.
Under the old system, the rules restricted the export of generic medicines produced under compulsory licence. So if you couldn’t produce the medicines domestically, the rules could make it difficult to import them in sufficient quantities at an affordable price.
This Amendment gives legal certainty that such generic medicines can be produced and exported for the benefit of countries with no pharmaceutical production capacity — or those with limited capacity. And it ensures that those medicines can be imported in satisfactory quantities.
This is an important step. And it illustrates how the trading system can help to support access to essential medicines.
In addition to access, the second way trade can help is by supporting good practices for antibiotics use.
Governments may set rules to encourage the responsible use of antibiotics in order to address antimicrobial resistance. And of course such rules can have an impact on trade in these drugs.
WTO agreements allow members to take necessary measures to protect human health or the environment — even if it somehow restricts the trade of certain products.
It is well established in trade law that governments have a “right to regulate”.
While providing this flexibility, WTO agreements encourage governments to base any restrictive measures on international standards, guidelines or recommendations where they are applicable.
In this way WTO trade law can help support the implementation of international standards and good practices for appropriate use of antibiotics.
I understand this will be a topic at one of the panel sessions today, and I look forward to hearing about the results of those discussions.
To conclude, it’s clear that we need to work together to meet the challenges of antimicrobial resistance.
Issues like this take precedence.
The rules that govern global trade were designed with appropriate flexibilities so that we can respond to precisely this sort of situation. I am clear that the WTO should not stand in the way of the response to this issue — rather, we must do everything we can to facilitate it.
I think we all share that approach. Indeed, I think the resolve to tackle this issue among the three partners, and across the multilateral system, is stronger than ever.
That is reflected in the remarkable collection of expertise and experience that we have drawn together in this room today. And so I am sure that it will be a productive meeting.
I will be following proceedings closely. I wish you a very successful event.
Thank you for listening.
DG Azevêdo speaking at a joint symposium on the global challenge of antimicrobial resistance held by the WTO, the World Intellectual Property Organization and the World Health Organization.
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