A health care facility in Haiti, the nation initiating request for extension                                                                           Credit

Civil society groups call on WTO to extend patent rules for least developed countries

A health care facility in Haiti, the nation initiating request for extension                                                                           Credit
A health care facility in Haiti, the nation initiating request for extension. Credit

On February 21, 2013, 376 civil society organizations sent a letter to members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) calling for a further extension of the transition period for Least Developed Countries (LDCs) under article 66.1 of the TRIPS (Trade Related Aspects of  Intellectual Property Rights) Agreement. (For more on TRIPS).  Excerpts are below:

 

 

Dear Members of the World Trade Organization (WTO),

 

As civil society organizations concerned with access to medicines, to educational resources, to environmentally sound technologies (ESTs), and to other public goods and cultural creations and further concerned with farmers’ rights, food security, human flourishing, sustainable and equitable technological and industrial development in Least Developed Countries (LDCs), we call on WTO Members to unconditionally accord the LDC Group an extension of the transition period as requested by the LDC Group in their duly motivated request to the TRIPs Council (IP/C/W/583).

 

 

Article 66.1 of the TRIPS Agreement accorded LDC Members of the WTO a renewable ten-year exemption from most obligations under the TRIPS Agreement in view of the special needs and requirements of the LDC Members, their economic, financial and administrative constraints and their need for flexibility to create a viable technological base.

 

This exemption was originally due to expire on 31 December 2005. However, a TRIPS Council decision of 27 June 2002, exempted LDCs from having to implement or enforce patents and test data obligations with regard to pharmaceutical products until 1 January 2016. Without prejudice to this extension, the TRIPS Council extended the general TRIPS compliance transition period for LDC Members for all obligations under the TRIPS Agreement, other than Articles 3, 4 and 5, until 1 July 2013 or until such date on which a Member ceases to be an LDC, whichever date is earlier.

 

On 5 November 2012 the Delegation of Haiti on behalf of the LDC Group submitted a duly motivated request to the WTO TRIPS Council for an extension of the LDC transition period, until a Member ceases to be a LDC. Annexed to the request is a draft decision text for the consideration of the TRIPS Council. The draft decision states: “Least developed country Members shall not be required to apply the provisions of the Agreement, other than Articles 3, 4 and 5, until they cease to be a least developed country Member”.

 

We are of the view that Article 66.1 obliges the TRIPS Council to approve without conditions the duly motivated request submitted by the LDCs. Thus we strongly urge all WTO Members to urgently support the LDC Group request and to approve the LDC request and proposed draft decision.

 

LDCs are fully justified in seeking an unlimited extension for so long as any LDC Member is so classified because shorter extensions, even sequential extensions, will not give LDCs adequate time to overcome capacity constraints and to develop a viable and competitive technological base. By definition, LDCs face ongoing resource and human constraints, widening technological gaps, and weak innovative capacities. Overcoming these problems takes contextually specific strategies, policy flexibility, greater financial resources, but it also takes time – decades not years. Similarly, LDCs are fully justified in seeking a group extension rather than individual country extensions and in seeking extensions with respect to all TRIPS obligations rather than select obligations only. LDCs, by definition, are similarly situated with respect to development challenges and they should have full flexibility as a group. LDCs are also fully justified in not promising to maintain current levels of IP protections. LDCs must not be asked to undertake additional obligations.

 

In conclusion we request that:

  • All WTO Members honor their obligation under Article 66.1 and unconditionally accord to the Least Developed Countries the requested extension. Accordingly all WTO Members should support and agree at the upcoming meetings of the TRIPS Council to the draft decision text presented by the LDC Group that: “Least developed country Members shall not be required to apply the provisions of the Agreement, other than Articles 3, 4 and 5, until they cease to be a least developed country Member”.
  • WTO Members do NOT attach to the extension decision any conditions and limitations that limit the policy space and flexibility available to LDCs under Article 66.1 of TRIPS.

 

In conclusion, we stress that any attempt to weaken or to refuse Least Developed Countries (LDCs) rights that they are entitled to under the TRIPS Agreement will damage the credibility of the WTO as it will show that the multilateral trading system is unable to benefit the poorest and most vulnerable segment of the international community.

 

The full text of the letter and a list of the 376 signing organizations is available here.