Remarks by Director-General Roberto Azevêdo

> Roberto Azevêdo’s speeches


Distinguished authors,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Good afternoon.

I am delighted to be with all of you today and to be launching this very special WTO publication on the making of the TRIPS Agreement.

We are proud to bring this excellent volume to you as we mark the 20th anniversary both of the WTO and of the TRIPS Agreement. 

A remarkable group of authors have contributed to this book — and I am pleased that some of them could join us here today.

In this room we have gathered a huge — and probably unrivalled — wealth of knowledge and expertise on intellectual property and the global trading system. 

IP is a topic that attracts a lot of attention. We saw that in both of yesterday’s Public Forum plenary sessions.

But overall, I think TRIPS, and IP issues more broadly, are still not very widely understood.

We need to spread some of the knowledge that we have in this room.

So that’s what this book is all about.

If we had one hope for this publication, it was to inform dialogue on this important issue. We need to help illuminate the work of experts and policymakers around the world.

I think that this book takes an important step in that direction.

It compiles a wide range of perspectives on the practicalities and challenges of negotiating the TRIPS Agreement. And we hear directly from the protagonists — from those who were at the centre of the process.

And clearly, they did a pretty good job.

Their work transformed the brief and somewhat ambiguous negotiation mandate laid out in 1986 into a complex and sophisticated agreement, which tackles a technically challenging field.

Of course the world of international trade and intellectual property today is starkly different to that of 1986, when the TRIPS negotiations were launched in Punta del Este. But this agreement has stood the test of time. The text that they produced has proved far-sighted enough, and flexible enough, to accommodate the changes of the last 20 years.

Take the Doha Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health which was adopted in 2001. This highlights the public policy safeguards that negotiators built into the text of the Agreement.

It showed that the TRIPS Agreement contains sufficient flexibilities to protect public health and promote access to medicines for all.

And, strikingly, a major revision to the TRIPS Agreement was not needed to achieve this outcome.

Rather, one specific policy instrument, special compulsory licences for export, was devised and added to an already adaptable set of public policy tools. 

This serves to underline the balanced nature of the text. And the accounts collected in the book we are launching today show that this was no accident — rather it was the result of careful negotiations.

As a result, the Doha Declaration on Public Health has proved to be a major factor behind the shift in how the TRIPS Agreement is perceived over these 20 years.

The TRIPS Agreement impacted deeply on national IP regimes around the world — with the most significant changes experienced in developing economies.

At the time of the TRIPS negotiations, I think it is fair to say that the general view was that the international IP system essentially served the interests of developed economies.

Not so today.

Some middle income countries are among the major users of the global IP system, and many other developing countries are increasingly engaged with it.

Innovation and creativity are hardly exclusive to the developed world. Other economies are adapting IP tools to support innovation and serve their broader interests. 

In fact, this evolving trade landscape is one of the themes to be explored in more detail at the next session of the Public Forum, right after this event. 

Experience, particularly with preferential trade agreements, has shown how TRIPS serves as a benchmark for legitimate policymaking. It helps to balance the adequate protection of intellectual property rights with the interests of users and the general public.

And in reading the book, it is striking to see that the negotiations were not dominated by a North-South divide. 

The authors explain how large parts of the TRIPS text were developed through the resolution of intra-North differences, or through alliances that disregarded North-South boundaries. This happened with standards for copyright, patents, trade secrets, test data protection and geographical indications, as well as on enforcement.

There are also compelling accounts from developing country negotiators who describe how they made crucial contributions to the balance in the Agreement that were accepted by consensus.

But overall, this book is not just one for IP specialists; and it is not meant to be a book about the law of TRIPS.

Instead, by describing the practical process of the making of the Agreement, and by explaining the working methods and negotiating techniques that were developed — or often improvised — it offers real insights.

I think these insights are valid even today for those who wish to learn how such a potentially divisive subject could be negotiated to a successful conclusion.

It therefore offers a rare insider’s account of the craft of international negotiations. 

The editors, Jayashree Watal and Antony Taubman, and their colleagues in the Secretariat, have done an excellent job.

Firstly, they organized a symposium in February this year, which sparked this renewed discussion on the making of the TRIPS Agreement.

And then they brought this volume to fruition, so that the insights garnered could reach a wider audience.

So I want to give my thanks to them.

But above all our thanks and deep appreciation go to the authors and contributors — both former TRIPS negotiators and GATT Secretariat staff — for taking the time to engage in and prepare this unique publication.

I congratulate you all.

The insights in this volume are not only of deep historic interest — they will also serve as an inspiration for success in future negotiations in other such complex and sensitive areas.

So let’s make sure we put this knowledge to good use.

Thank you.


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