MSF supports developing countries' recommendations to the 4th WTO Ministerial Conference

© Telemans
The WTO Ministerial Conference should express clear political support for an interpretation of the TRIPS Agreement that protects public health. The meeting should result in a Ministerial Declaration stating that "nothing in the TRIPS Agreement shall prevent Members from taking measures to protect public health". This wording was suggested in a draft declaration put forward by 60 developing countries in the September 2001 TRIPS Council Session on Access to Medicines. A strong declaration would help protect the lives of people in developing countries. Not only would it have an impact on how the TRIPS Agreement is interpreted by the WTO dispute settlement panels, but also on how national legislation is assessed by the TRIPS Council in the future. In addition, the Ministerial Declaration should explicitly acknowledge the following points:
  • An intellectual property rights system is needed which will guarantee more equitable sharing of the benefits of technological development and advances between the populations of developed and developing countries. Ways must be sought to correct the imbalance between the current unbridled exercise of private property rights and public interest.
  • The failure of the present intellectual property rights system to provide incentives for research and development for neglected diseases should be addressed.
  • The TRIPS January 2006 deadline for implementing patent protection for pharmaceutical products in least developed countries must be extended if countries wish to do so.
  • No bilateral pressure should be allowed between Members to push for an early adoption of patent protection for pharmaceuticals in developing or least developed countries, or for more stringent rules than required in the TRIPS Agreement.
  • The right to parallel import medicines, as allowed for in TRIPS, must be affirmed. Parallel import refers to the importation of a patented medicine, without the consent of the patent holder, from a foreign market where this patented medicine is sold or marketed at a lower price. This important policy instrument enables developing countries to bring down the cost of medicines in their own market by encouraging competition.
  • The right of developing countries to issue compulsory licenses, which allow the production or import of a generic medicine without the consent of the patent holder, must be affirmed in order to lower the acquisition costs of medicines. The grounds on which a compulsory license is issued should not be limited. In addition, a cross-boundary practice of compulsory licenses should be enforced so that, in countries with no or limited drug manufacturing capacity, needs can be fulfilled through importation. No Member should be penalized for taking this step.