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WTO SPIN UNCONVINCING

The spin from the WTO talks in Qatar last November was that developing nations won major concessions from developed countries over access to epidemic-fighting drugs. I'm not convinced.

The highly publicised "Declaration on the TRIPS (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) Agreement and Public Health" approved in Qatar has been touted as a document ensuring that poorer nations can buy less-expensive generic drugs without fear of violating the patents of pharmaceutical firms.

This, some believe, settles the longstanding dispute between the patent rights of pharmaceutical firms and the rights of people in poor nations to have access to affordable drugs combating aids. The companies contend that if their patents are compromised, they will have little incentive to research and develop needed medicines. Representatives of African and other developing nations say they cannot afford to pay for aids drugs under present conditions.

"We agree," reads the declaration, "that the TRIPS Agreement does not and should not prevent members from taking measures to protect public health. Accordingly, while reiterating our commitment to the TRIPS Agreement, we affirm that the Agreement can and should be interpreted and implemented in a manner supportive of WTO Members' right to protect public health and, in particular, to promote access to medicines for all."

"We could have written that declaration ourselves," said Jamie Love, director of Ralph Nader's Consumer Project on Technology, in comments to The Wall Street Journal. He pronounced himself "euphoric."

Dogged lobbying

I have the greatest admiration for Mr. Love. Intense and dogged lobbying by his organisation and others over the last two years is the only reason why there was a Doha Declaration in the first place. I do not share his euphoria, however. There may be less here than meets the eye.

First, it is...

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