[Ip-health] POLITICO PRO: Drug fight moves from TPP to WTO

Zack Struver zack.struver at keionline.org
Thu Oct 15 11:32:35 PDT 2015

Drug fight moves from TPP to WTO
By Adam Behsudi
10/15/15 05:00 AM EDT

Updated 10/15/15 08:54 AM EDT

The trade fight over global pharmaceutical protections has shifted from
conference rooms in Atlanta to negotiations in Geneva where some of the
poorest countries are pressing for a free pass on drug patents.

The World Trade Organization's intellectual property council begins a
meeting today where countries could determine how to renew a waiver that
allows the trade group's 34 least-developed countries to be exempt from
drug patents. The waiver, which has existed since at least 2002, is due to
expire at the start of 2016 and the poorer countries want it brought back
with an unlimited length of time — or at least until their incomes rise to
an acceptable level. The European Union, a key WTO member, supports that

So does Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. In a letter sent to United States
Trade Representative Michael Froman late last month, the Democratic
presidential hopeful notes how residents of LDC countries live on an
average of $1,000 or less per year and lack even the most basic of

"Pope Francis, in his recent address to Congress, encouraged policymakers
'to keep in mind all those people around us who are trapped in a cycle of
poverty,'" Sanders noted.

Similar letters of support have come recently from Sen. Sherrod Brown
(D-Ohio) and a group of seven House Democrats, including Reps. Jan
Schakowsky (Ill.) and Rosa DeLauro (Conn.). Only an indefinite waiver from
drug patents will ensure the poorest countries can access affordable
medicines, they say.

But the United States, Australia, Canada, Japan, Switzerland and other
countries think the waiver should be limited to a number of years, as it
has been in the past.

“We think there’s got to be a balance and we’re willing to engage in how to
find that balance,” said a senior official familiar with the talks. “But we
don’t support the notion that intellectual property is bad for development.”

The U.S. initially proposed a waiver period lasting until June 2021, which
would be in line with a broader intellectual property waiver set to expire
at that time, according to sources in Geneva. Others have proposed it last
until 2030, which would mirror the United Nation’s Agenda for Sustainable

“The key issue is the request for an indefinite extension,” said one senior
diplomat in Geneva. “This seems to be a common concern, not the need to
provide flexibilities when required.”

In either case, a diplomatic source in Geneva said LDC countries are
generally “disinclined to put a number on the table.”

The duration of protections surrounding drugs was a major source of
contention in the Trans-Pacific Partnership talks. The negotiations wrapped
up in Atlanta last month with a deal that would allow participating
countries to cap intellectual property protections for biologic drugs at as
little as five years. Health advocacy groups have expressed concern that
U.S. negotiators might use the WTO to appease the pharmaceutical industry
and its champions who are otherwise dissatisfied with the outcome reached
in the giant Asia-Pacific trade deal.

"It is deplorable the poorest countries on Earth are being held hostage by
the USTR's fear of BIO, PhRMA and Senator [Orrin] Hatch's post-TPP
blowback," the group Knowledge Ecology International said in a blog posted
online Monday.

Senior diplomatic sources fervently deny that the TPP deal has been raised
in the context of the WTO waiver talks.

Meanwhile, an emerging rift among the LDC group could work to the advantage
of the U.S.

Bangladesh may be willing to settle for a finite time period but countries
like Uganda are sticking firm to the unlimited waiver length, said sources
in Geneva. The South Asian country’s stance could be influenced by the fact
that a group of 30 civil society and non-governmental organizations based
in Bangladesh sent an Oct. 11 letter to Froman requesting a waiver period
lasting until 2025 for not only drug patents but other intellectual
property obligations.

“Implementing patent protection in 2016 will severely hamper access to
medicine for [a] huge population of Bangladesh,” the letter states. [The]
“people of Bangladesh will have to depend on costly imported patented
medicine and as a result, [the] public health of Bangladesh will be at
great risk."

A decision on the issue could be reached by the end of this week, but
sources in Geneva say it’s still unclear the issue is any closer to being

"Basically between February and now, I'm left with the impression that very
little has happened," said a diplomatic source, referring to the month when
the request for an indefinite waiver was first made.

Work still remains even after sources said U.S. Ambassador to the WTO
Michael Punke met on Oct. 9 with a group of ambassadors from the LDC
countries and later held a separate meeting with the Bangladeshi ambassador
who currently chairs the poor country group.

Other informal meetings took place Monday and Tuesday, where Alfredo
Suescum, the acting chairman of the intellectual property council and the
Panamanian Ambassador to the WTO, urged parties to reach a deal before the
council started its formal meeting, sources said.

Zack Struver, Communications and Research Associate
Knowledge Ecology International
zack.struver at keionline.org
Twitter: @zstruver <https://twitter.com/zstruver>
Office: +1 (202) 332-2670 Cell: +1 (914) 582-1428

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