Friday, August 29, 2003

The run-up to the WTO ministerial in Cancun is in a near crisis after a host of Southern countries revolted against the pharmaceutical deal worked out with the United States.
A deal to provide cut-price copies of life-saving drugs for the world's poorest people was on the brink of collapse yesterday in Geneva, after developing countries objected to a last-minute compromise worked out to pacify the US pharmaceuticals industry.

A marathon session of negotiations ended early yesterday morning with no deal amid bitter recriminations and accusations of sabotage.

Delegates failed to bridge their differences over relaxing global patent laws when they reconvened last night despite an impassioned warning from the World Trade Organisation director general, Supachai Panitchpakdi, that the stalemate could jeopardise the Cancun summit of trade ministers which begins in less than two weeks.
It looks like the Southern back benchers, led by the Philippines, came out strongly against the tentative deal with the US (which torpedoed a previous agreement in December) and implicitly against the leadership of Brazil and India who, together with South Africa and Kenya, worked out the compromise with the US.

Interestingly, The Guardian reports that "Kenya . . . held up talks for six hours until its Geneva representative was overruled by Nairobi." Clearly there was a lot of pressure on the Southern countries to accept the deal, a settlement which was to ensure that Southern countries didn't 'take advantage' of the magnanimity of the US to allow countries which didn't produce drugs themselves to import generics produced in countries like Brazil and India under compulsory licenses. According to the BBC, Southern countries were to be held responsible for "ensur[ing] cheap versions of drugs do not make their way onto markets in rich countries." Does this mean Mexican border guards need to inspect the handbags of every old lady crossing back into Arizona from a day trip to Nogales?

The Guardian also reports that the sub-Saharan countries, clearly the most desperate for any deal at all, are pressing everyone they can to accept the compromise. It looks like I jumped the gun a bit on proclaiming the unity of the South behind the leadership of Brazil and India. But this time, disunity plays to the South rather than to the North. No compromise on drugs means the Cancun ministerial will likely collapse, and the North isn't about to let that happen.


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