Washington Post (11.02.01) - Friday, November 02, 2001
"Rich countries have been so indifferent to the developing
world's AIDS crisis that it is easy to overlook an instance in
which they have done the right thing. In a speech on Tuesday
Robert Zoellick, the administration's trade representative,
announced two concessions to developing countries that cannot
afford patented AIDS drugs. Provided they are implemented in
good faith, these ought to be enough to silence the
controversy on drug pricing that has consumed the AIDS debate.
"Mr. Zoellick's first concession was that the world's poorest
countries should have until 2016 to implement patent laws;
previously, the World Trade Organization's rules had made 2006
the deadline. This means that for the next 14 years poor
countries can buy cheap generic drugs without infringing
patent law, since such laws will not exist. Second, Mr.
Zoellick proposed a moratorium of at least five years on WTO
challenges to African countries' efforts to fight AIDS and
other killer diseases. This means that South Africa, a country
that already has patent law, will be able to use the
flexibility in its own statutes to access cheap drugs without
being hauled before the WTO's dispute settlement panel.
"These two concessions do not help countries outside Africa
that are too rich to qualify for the 10-year extension but
still face a terrible AIDS toll. ...But the US position does
offer something to these countries: The draft declaration for
the Doha summit reaffirms countries' right to circumvent
patent rules in case of health emergencies such as AIDS. ...
"The AIDS activists who have fought the US government over its
support for international patents should now rethink their
stance. They have moved policy away from a morally untenable
insistence that poor countries espouse rich countries' patent
system, and that is a triumph. ...The danger now is that
continued outrage against even a moderated international
patent system will drive drug companies to withdraw from
research into AIDS and other politically charged diseases.
That would be a tragedy."