By Patrick Jaramogi
The Civil Society organizations working on Trade Intellectual Property, access to medicine food and seeds have accused the US and EU of playing an unprincipled, tag-team game of coercion at the World Trade Organization against the legitimate request of Least Development Country members to be granted an extension of the transition period, within which they must become compliant with the WTO TRIPS Agreement.
The United States, European Union, and Australia are aggressively trying to pressure LDCs to keep in place the “no roll-back” provision that prevents LDCs from changing their existing laws, even if they were adopted from the colonial era or new laws that have proven bad for development.
The precarious events have put four of the five East African partner states- Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi and Rwanda classified as Least Developed Countries at a high risk of having access to medicine, food, and seeds.
Under the TRIPS (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) Agreement, the four EAC states apart from Kenya that is under the developing countries category are not obliged to implement the TRIPS agreement until July 2013 and until 2016 for the IPRs relating to pharmaceutical.
The agreement gives them rights to seek further extension of these transitions deadlines, restrict IPR protection and under certain circumstances issue licenses for import or production of an IPR protected commodity without authority from the Intellectual Property Rights Holder.
The CSOs contend that for these reasons, technologically advanced countries such as US, EU, and others consider TRIPS agreement too weak to serve their interests,” said Primah Kwagala and Intellectual Property Lawyer with Center for Health Human Rights and Development (CEHURD)
The CSOs yesterday petitioned the WTO Council chair and Developed country Missions in Uganda to express their disapproval of the manner in which negotiations for the request to extend the time with in which Least Developed Countries (LDCs) can enforce Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS) are being handled.
“On November 2012, Haiti the then chair of LDCs at the TRIPS Council submitted a request on behalf of all LDCs to the WTO TRIPS Council for an extension of the LDC transition period, until a Member ceases to be a LDC. This request has received overwhelming support from developing countries like Norway, academics world over,” noted Kwagala.
The CSOs noted in the petition to the European Union Head Ambassador Roberto Rudolfi that It is infuriating to however note that over the past few months, (WTO) has been chairing informal meetings between developed countries and least developed countries where LDCs have been pressed to agree to a shorter term of 5 - 7.5 years and inclusion of a provision to not roll back their current intellectual property laws without admitting groups that support them to the meetings.
“This is unacceptable as the TRIPS Agreement states that upon a duly motivated request, the TRIPS council shall grant an extension.
LDCs to which Uganda is categorised are justified in seeking an unlimited extension for so long as they are so classified because the suggested 5-7years will not give us adequate time to overcome capacity constraints to develop a viable and competitive technological base.” States Mulumba Moses, Director at the Center for Health, Human Rights and Development
He noted that almost 90% of drugs in Uganda are imports of which most are generic versions from India. India like Uganda is a party to the Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). “As per requirements under TRIPS, India today grants product patents for drugs and pharmaceuticals while we (Uganda) don’t. This has impacted the accessibility and affordability of cheap lifesaving drugs,” said Mulumba.
“The ability to access cheap medicines on the market will be curtailed and the fight against HIV/AIDS in Uganda may be lost if expansive trade laws are adopted without improving the incomes of Ugandans.” Joshua Wamboga from TASO notes on a sad note.