21 May 2013
On 20 May, global civil society networks LDC Watch and the Our World Is Not For Sale (OWINFS) wrote an open letter of protest to the Ambassador of Panama, Alfredo Suescum who is the current Chair of the Council on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
The ongoing informal negotiations between the least developed countries (LDCs) and the developed countries, on the extension period of TRIPS waiver granted to LDCs which expires by the end of June, is marred by unjust and unethical treatment by the United States, European Union, Japan, New Zealand, Canada, Australia, Switzerland, in particular, including the Council Chair.
The LDC Group’s request of unconditional extension of the transition period (i.e. to defer implementation of TRIPS obligations) until they graduate from the LDC status has obtained extensive support from the developing world but these supporters have not been invited to participate in the current ongoing consultations. Instead, the consultations have been limited to developed countries (that are opposed to the LDCs’ request) and to the LDC Group. The Council Chair, Ambassador Suescum is therefore depriving LDCs of their allies, while attempting to overwhelm the negotiating capacity of the poorest members of the WTO by placing them in an unfair position where they have to face the united might of the developed countries. Clearly the consultations have been designed so that the outcome will fail the LDCs.
The bone of contention in the current negotiations is the impractical short extension period (5-7.5 years) and the unjustifiable no-roll-back clause that would force LDCs to maintain current levels of IP protections. LDC Watch International Co-ordinator Dr. Arjun Karki said “Historically, technological development in rich countries has come about by copying and adapting advanced technologies invented elsewhere so it is totally unprincipled that now they are imposing IP compliance on the LDCs who are the most poorest and vulnerable segment of the international community”. The 49 UN-defined LDCs spanning across Sub-Saharan Africa, the Caribbean, Asia and the Pacific, are categorised on the basis of low income, weak human assets and economically vulnerability.
Legally Article 66.1 of the TRIPS Agreement mandates all WTO members to approve the LDC Group’s request, once it has been submitted which was done in November 2012 by Haiti as the then Chair. Like all WTO agreements, the TRIPS Agreement is built on a foundation of “special and differential treatment” for developing countries and, especially, for LDCs, in recognition of their inherent vulnerability and impediments. The intent and spirit of Article 66.1 is for LDCs to have maximum flexibility and policy space including the option of undoing existing IP protections should such protection be adverse to its needs. “The United States, Canada, Australia, the EU, New Zealand, Switzerland, and Japan – along with Ambassador Suescum – should be tremendously shamed by their actions in the TRIPS Council, which seek to deprive LDCs of their right to development. OWINFS and LDC Watch are shining a bright light on their devious, dark room machinations, and it’s ugly in there! Fortunately there is still time to agree to the LDC extension TRIPS waiver, as it was requested,” said Deborah James of OWINFS.