Tuesday, August 19, 2003

Cancun will surely not be a full repeat of Seattle. Yet we do know that history always repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.
Hope is fading fast that this latest World Trade Organisation jamboree will lead to a deal to unlock billions of pounds for both the rich and poor nations.

It is a staggering 21 months since the talks were launched in Doha, Qatar, amid scenes of jubilation. That optimism has all but evaporated and there is scant sign of progress. . . .

most NGOs believe there is a real danger the talks will simply rubber stamp a deal under which rich countries exploit the wealth of the developing world but give little in return. Adriano Campolina Soares, head of the rights campaign at ActionAid, said globalisation has "completely failed" poor people and the WTO's trade rules have made things yet worse.

He said: "If Cancun fails to deliver genuine changes on key issues such as agriculture and access to essential drugs, developing countries may well start questioning the existence of an organisation that seems constantly to work against us."
Believe it or not, the US is still trying to prevent the override of drug patents in the Global South despite the apparent victory for the South at Doha in 2001. Back on November 14, 2001, the WTO declared by consensus
We agree 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.
Things looked good for the rights of countries like Brazil, South Africa and India in particular to grant compulsory licenses to local manufacturers of pharmaceuticals and to decide for themselves what constitutes a "national emergency" in public health. It even looked good for smaller, much poorer countries in the South to import generics from countries like Brazil or India since they couldn't produce the drugs themselves.

Even since then, however, the Bush administration has used every gambit in the book to block the flow of generic drugs across international boundaries. In particular, the US uses its "Special 301" trade powers to bully any country failing to live up to the patent standards which US pharmaceuticals -- represented by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) -- deem necessary. The use of bilateral trade agreements is also prevalent. Just as the US has won exemption from the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court via so-called "Article 98 agreements," so too is it winning "TRIPS-plus" patent protections via the same kind of bilateral strongarm tactics.

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