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Brussels, 24 June 2002

EU launches initiative on access to drugs for poor countries to complete unfinished WTO business

Tomorrow, the European Union will unveil a plan to ensure that developing countries with no domestic drug production can obtain affordable supplies of essential medicines. The plan is set out in its Communication to the Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Council at the World Trade Organisation in Geneva. It would enable a foreign supplier to fill orders on the basis of a compulsory licence in specified circumstances. 'We have unfinished business on access to medicines in the WTO. If we are to deliver on the promise made in Doha, we must find a solution to the problems faced by developing countries that are entitled to emergency access to medicines to combat killer diseases, but don't have the means to produce them locally,' EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy explained.

In Doha last November, a Declaration on TRIPS and Public Health recognised the right of WTO members to grant compulsory licences and to determine the grounds for granting them, particularly when public health is at stake. However, in order to protect the rights holder by ensuring that licenses are granted to supply the domestic market, it restricts compulsory licensing to the patent issuing country. This presents difficulties to countries unable to manufacture the medicines they need, and the TRIPS Council was instructed to solve this problem before the end of 2002.

The EU's proposal would add a new paragraph to the relevant article of the TRIPS agreement, Article 31. It would carve out a clearly circumscribed exception to the restriction imposed in the text so that compulsory licences may be issued to another WTO member in order to address its public health needs. This would provide a straightforward, clear, legally secure, effective and permanent solution to the problems facing poorer countries without manufacturing capacity within the existing legal framework. Safeguards would be put in place to avoid trade diversion, create transparency and ensure co-operation with rights holders. This would prevent abuse of the system for purposes other than to provide pharmaceutical products at affordable prices to those in need.


The EU took the role of honest broker on access to medicines at the WTO Ministerial last year, and the result was a separate Ministerial declaration, which meets the long-term interests of all. On the one hand, developing countries can find flexibility in the Agreement to ensure that they get the medicines they need, on the other, TRIPS will play a key role in fostering Research and Development.

Relevant Documents

Full text of EU Communication to TRIPS Council:

More on Access to essential medicines :


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