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WTO reaches deal on affordable access

7 December 2005

WTO reaches deal on affordable access to medicines

News that World Trade Organisation members have agreed a permanent solution to enable developing countries to access affordable medicines to combat serious public health problems such as AIDS and malaria was welcome, Trade Negotiations Minister Jim Sutton said today.

Mr Sutton applauded the efforts of developing countries, in particular the African Members, as well as key developed Members the United States and EU, in reaching agreement overnight in Geneva on an amendment to the WTO rules.

He said the issue was a critical one for developing countries that cannot afford to purchase patented drugs.

"New Zealand has strongly supported efforts to reach a permanent solution.

"This is also a welcome boost for the WTO negotiations more generally. Ahead of the WTO Ministerial meeting in Hong Kong next week, the Geneva decision sends a strong message of commitment to the development objectives of this trade round."

WTO Members have reached agreement on a legal amendment to WTO rules in order to implement a political decision taken in August 2003.

Mr Sutton said this was the first amendment to a WTO agreement since the agreements came into force in 1995.

"It shows that 148 Members are capable of reaching agreement on difficult issues. As well as offering legal certainty, a consensus decision carries special moral force.

"This is precisely the spirit we need to take to Hong Kong."

Background

The issue of access to medicines is a development issue of high political importance to developing countries. In August 2003, during the lead-up to the Cancun Ministerial, WTO Members granted a waiver from TRIPS rules that enables developing countries, faced with serious public health problems such as AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and other epidemics, to import generic copies of patented drugs produced under compulsory licence in another country.

Until now, Members have not converted this waiver into a permanent amendment to the TRIPS Agreement. Consultations have occurred over recent weeks between three key parties - the US, the EC and the African Group of Members.

New Zealand has given its full support to this process. We have made technical contributions to the debate and stated our full commitment to efforts to find a compromise.

ENDS

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