WTO COMING UNDER PRESSURE AS THREAT OF BIRD FLU LOOMS

A A

The World Trade Organisation (WTO) remains undecided on how to amend TRIPS guidelines in order to cover the export of drugs manufactured under compulsory license.

After a 2003 ruling, countries that lack pharmaceutical manufacturing capabilities are permitted to import generic versions of drugs that are still under patent. Under these rules, WTO members received a temporary waiver of their TRIPS obligations allowing them to export drugs produced under compulsory license. However, a permanent amendment to TRIPS has not yet been agreed.

Both Argentina and Brazil are keen to agree a permanent solution due to growing fears about bird flu and the high costs and short-term availability of Roche's anti-flu treatment Tamiflu. They are also pushing for developing countries to have a greater say in the negotiation process.

Both countries are considering manufacturing a generic version of Tamiflu. However, they are seeking greater clarification over the rules allowing them to export the drugs to countries without the capacity to produce the drug -- including many in Latin America. Industry observers have complained that the current guidelines are beset with bureaucracy and are limited by political pressures, with many developing countries declaring them "unworkable."

Meanwhile, Argentina and Brazil have recently agreed collaboration with Chile, Bolivia, Uruguay and Paraguay to create a common fund to fight avian flu.