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USA: Bush Blocks Cheap Drugs for World's Poor

by Charlotte DennyGuardian/UK
February 19th, 2003

George Bush's close links with the drugs industry were last night blamed for the failure of talks in Geneva aimed at securing access to cheap medicines for developing countries.

Delegates at the World Trade Organization expressed frustration after the US again rejected a deal that would have loosened global patent rules to enable poor countries to import cheap copies of desperately needed drugs.

"We believe that governments should maintain their distance and should not be directed by pressure groups," one EU trade official said.

Negotiators said a solution to the deadlock lay in America's hands. "The pharmaceuticals lobby is running the show in Washington," one development activist said.

The WTO's 144 members agreed more than a year ago that countries could override patent rules in the interests of public health and license local producers to copy essential drugs. But they failed to spell out how countries with no manufacturing capacity would gain access to life-saving medicines.

A draft accord on imports was rejected by the US last December after lobbying from drugs firms, which fear that relaxing the rules to allow poor countries to import copycat drugs will help generics manufacturers in India and Brazil to steal their markets.

America's counter proposal, limiting imports to drugs for a shortlist of diseases including HIV/Aids, malaria and tuberculosis, was rejected by developing countries as too restrictive.

Eduardo Perez Motta, the Mexican ambassador to the WTO, who chairs the drugs talks, admitted the Organization's reputation had been damaged by the deadlock.

A Brazilian proposal, to let the World Health Organization decide which countries were allowed to import copycat drugs, was not even discussed yesterday.

Last week a South African plan that would have required countries to declare a national emergency also failed to win over the US drug industry.

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