[Ip-health] WSJ on Doha TRIPS declaration
Wed, 14 Nov 2001 01:07:19 -0500
November 14, 2001
Deal Will Allow Poor Nations to Ignore
Patents to Meet Public-Health Needs
By GEOFF WINESTOCK and HELENE COOPER
Staff Reporters of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
DOHA, Qatar -- The pharmaceutical industry is scrambling to limit the
damage that might result from a deal hammered out by World Trade
Organization negotiators this week that declares that poor countries can
ignore drug-company patents and buy cheap generic drugs to meet
The drug industry has long argued that countries, even poor ones, must
honor its patent rights or else the industry won't have an incentive to
develop new drugs. Under intense political and public pressure, some
companies have in the past year eased their position on patents for
drugs to treat AIDS in poor countries. But the WTO deal goes further:
Drug companies sought narrow language to encompass only health pandemics
such as AIDS, but under the pact, illnesses from cancer to diabetes to
asthma could qualify.
How the deal was struck shows how the industry was outmaneuvered by
Just as WTO negotiations here reached a crisis on Monday morning, a
fretful Alan Holmer, president of the Pharmaceutical Research and
Manufacturers of America, fired off a letter to U.S. Trade
Representative Robert Zoellick to warn against any compromise that might
weaken drug patents.
Farm Subsidies Remain WTO Stumbling Block
* * *
WTO Nears Broad Generic-Drug Accord; U.S. May Renegotiate Antidumping
Rules (Nov. 13)
Developing Nations Are Emboldened by U.S.-Bayer Negotiations on Cipro
Field Tests of Generic AIDS Drugs in Africa, India May Impact Millions
Too late. Within hours, elated negotiators from poor countries were
passing around a draft agreement that declares that public health trumps
drug patents. "We agree that the [WTO] does not and should not prevent
members from taking measures to protect public health," the agreement
said. "We affirm that the agreement ... be interpreted and implemented
in a manner ... to ensure access to medicines for all."
Mr. Holmer didn't return phone messages seeking comment.
While U.S. trade negotiators here maintain they haven't weakened WTO
legal protections for drug patents, the drug industry worries the
agreement is bound to embolden poor countries to get cheap generics
where they can.
AIDS activists, who showed up here in droves to battle drug-company
lobbyists, were ecstatic. "It's like the WTO looked at the signs of the
demonstrators on the street, and then put in a declaration and adopted
it," said Jamie Love, director of Ralph Nader's Consumer Project on
Officials from Brazil -- where AIDS drugs are free and the fight for
greater access to life-saving medicines is a cause célèbre -- were also
elated. "Our expectations were fully met," said Paulo Teixeira, Brazil's
top AIDS official. "Even six months ago, this was unthinkable." Brazil
is the only country that sent both its top health and AIDS officials to
Tuesday, drug lobbyists at the meeting here were still struggling to
figure out the pact's meaning. Vague language in the agreement, they
fretted, could lead some countries, especially India, to continue to
But their bosses back in the U.S. and Europe said they knew concessions
were likely. "I wouldn't say that we're upset about this," said Nancy
Pekarek, a spokeswoman for GlaxoSmithKline PLC. "The language [of the
declaration] maintains the integrity of" WTO protections of patents.
Brian Ager, director general of the European Federation of the
Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations, agreed. "It's still very
much a political declaration," not a legal change to the WTO rules, he
Not everyone in the industry was so sanguine. "I am concerned," said
Daniel Vasella, chairman and chief executive of Novartis AG. "It's
important that the compromise express care for developing countries."
But without patents, profits aren't possible, and research suffers, he
Most trade envoys here said they assume the drug-patent agreement would
take effect regardless of whether the WTO conducts and concludes a new
round of trade-liberalization talks, but that isn't assured. "In the
WTO, nothing is agreed until everything is agreed," one WTO official
From the start, the drug-patents issue dominated talks here in Doha.
Lobbyists from U.S., Swiss and European drug companies all descended on
the meeting to protect their patents. But unlike in 1993, when
intellectual-property protections were first negotiated as part of the
initial WTO pact, this time the lobbyists were matched by AIDS activists
who proved to be a well-coordinated group of opponents.
Even before negotiations started, AIDS activists were pressing delegates
from poorer countries in Africa, Latin America and Asia to hold fast to
their demands that the agreement allow them to override drug patents for
a variety of ailments and not just pandemics such as AIDS. They also
hounded the negotiators from the U.S., Europe and Switzerland, meeting
with them again and again, to draft the agreement.
During a bus ride to one pre-conference meeting, the activists swarmed
Finnish delegate Hannele Tikkanen. They demanded -- and received --
three meetings with U.S. negotiators, then passed the negotiators'
cellphone numbers around.
Sometimes the battle between the drug lobbyists and the activists looked
like a spy movie. "Shhh, that's Harvey Bale -- he'll hear us," one Oxfam
America activist whispered after spotting the director general of the
International Organization of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers on a
late-night shuttle bus from the convention center. Oxfam is a charitable
At one point, the activists considered "outing" one drug lobbyist who
sneaked into the WTO meeting using a press pass, but then thought better
of it when they realized that about half of the activists themselves
were also posing as reporters. The representative of the World Health
Organization, which has close links to AIDS activists, was booted from
one meeting of trade officials after the WTO complained he had no right
to be there.
U.S. trade officials, once considered by activists to be allied with the
devil himself on the patents issue, soon seemed almost angelic,
especially when compared to the hard-line Europeans, particularly the
Swiss. During a meeting Sunday at the Sheraton with the Swiss
negotiators, Mr. Love of the Nader group listened for 45 minutes while
the Swiss refused to move on the patents issue. The agreement should be
limited to just AIDS, the Swiss envoys argued. What if African
countries, they asked, used the pact to steal Novartis and other
companies' patents on beauty products?
Mr. Love walked out of the meeting shaking his head.
But the Americans' traditional posture of defending patents suffered a
severe blow several weeks ago, when Tommy Thompson, U.S. Secretary for
Health and Human Services, threatened to seize Bayer AG's patent on
Cipro, an antibiotic to fight anthrax, unless Bayer lowered its price.
"We constantly reminded delegates of anthrax," said Mr. Teixeira of
Since Brazil began producing local versions of expensive, foreign-made
AIDS drugs, it has managed to bring down their prices by about 82%,
according to the Brazil health ministry. As a result of widespread use
of the drugs, the number of AIDS-related deaths and the infection rate
in the country have both been cut in half in recent years. These
statistics have made Brazil's AIDS program a model for the developing
Drug lobbyists did manage to win one point. The agreement fobs off to a
committee the activists' demand that the WTO explicitly state that it's
acceptable for countries that manufacture cheap generics -- such as
Brazil and India -- to export those drugs to other countries.
-- Vanessa Fuhrmans in Frankfurt, Miriam Jordan in Sao Paulo and
Gardiner Harris in Washington contributed to this article.
Write to Geoff Winestock at firstname.lastname@example.org and Helene Cooper at