G8 Summit Agrees On Africa Declaration With Weakened TRIPS Language

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By Tove Iren S. Gerhardsen
The Group of Eight (G8) final declaration on “growth and responsibility” in Africa is being met with initial reactions from observers that it contains a weaker approach to address patents and medicines to ensure “universal access.”

Discussions about patents and medicines in any forum appear to lead to the World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). This is true for this declaration as well, as this language seems to have been the sticking point, sources said, especially in the section on “Combating HIV/AIDS, Malaria, TB [tuberculosis] and other infectious diseases.”

The declaration was issued on the final day of the 6-8 June annual G8 Summit in Heiligendamm, Germany.

A government source close the negotiation told Intellectual Property Watch that this declaration was supposed by some to have counterbalanced the main declaration from the meeting on intellectual property, which mainly focuses on innovation and the protection of IP (IPW, Enforcement, 7 June 2007). “The Africa pillar was meant to be a counter power, but it is not,” the source said.

A non-governmental organisation (NGO) source told Intellectual Property Watch that in an earlier version, the G8 said it wanted to support the use of TRIPS flexibilities by countries in order to increase access to medicines, which was seen as better for developing countries than the final version. The latest says international organisations and donors (not G8 itself) should, “respond constructively to requests by African developing countries without manufacturing capacities with regard to the use of flexibilities referenced in the WTO Declaration on TRIPS and Public Health, while respecting WTO obligations.”

While the TRIPS agreement outlines the minimum IP standards countries have to implement, it also contains flexibilities that countries can use under certain conditions, such as in the area of public health in which patents should not hinder access. An example of a flexibility is the use of compulsory license, for instance, to allow access to cheaper versions of patented drugs.

A May draft of the G8 declaration contained language in the margin, now deleted, that shows what was originally in there: “The G8 reaffirms the importance of flexibilities references in the WTO Doha Declaration on TRIPS and Public Health,” according to a draft copy Intellectual Property Watch obtained.

The United Kingdom had wanted the earlier version with the G8 supporting TRIPS flexibilities, the NGO source said, adding that it had been in brackets, indicating that no agreement had been reached. But the United States had opposed it, the source said. This was not confirmed at press time.

The final language is the same as a 1 June draft version, which the source said contained the shift to accommodate the preferences of the United States.

But although the 8 June declaration is weaker than earlier versions, NGOs and others appear to appreciate that some reference to TRIPS flexibilities survived.

“For the first time, the G8 recognise the need to improve access to essential medicines by making use of TRIPS flexibilities to the fullest extent with the aim to foster local production of essential medicines in Africa,” the government source said.

“The G8 reaffirm their commitment to scaling up towards ‘universal access’ to comprehensive HIV prevention, treatment and care by 2010,” the declaration states, outlining how it will work with different partners to achieve this.

The G8 wants to work with the industry, “to consider supporting local production of HIV/AIDS pharmaceuticals by voluntary licenses and laboratory capacities that meet international standards and strengthen regulatory, certification and training institutes.”

The declaration also says that the G8 will respond to those African countries that indicate that they require technical assistance and capacity building programmes for advancing “their access to affordable, safe, effective and high quality generic and innovative medicines in a manner consistent with the WTO,” but does not specify how it will do this.

[Editor’s Note: Later on 8 June, industry groups such as the Association for Competitive Technology and the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations welcomed the summit outcome, stressing the importance of the new “dialogue” with emerging economies, of anti-counterfeiting measures and of innovation.]

Tove Gerhardsen may be reached at tgerhardsen@ip-watch.ch.

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