Tuesday, November 13, 2001

The world’s top trade officials yesterday hammered out a tentative deal that supporters say will ease access to life-saving drugs in poor countries.
The result on patent rules for pharmaceuticals came as the Qatar meeting of the World Trade Organization entered its final 24 hours.
Weary but optimistic negotiators expressed the hope that the accord on patent rules would accelerate a broader deal to begin a new trade round on dismantling impediments to commerce.
“It’s far from over, but [an agreement] is within our grasp,” said Michael Moore, the director-general of the 142-nation WTO who is hustling two avoid a repeat of a chaotic meeting in Seattle two years ago.
Yesterday evening, officials began drafting a new version of the ministerial declaration that would guide talks if they are approved in the Qatari capital of Doha.
Without the broader package, the patent accord cannot take effect.
The ministers, included U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick, are still wrangling over opening agricultural trade, an issue pitting the 15-nation European Union against the rest of the world.
But virtually every other WTO member also wants changes to U.S. trade laws, something Mr. Zoellick seems ready to concede.
The patent deal came as information about the American Airlines crash near New York City swept through the Sheraton Hotel where the WTO has convened.
But fears that the tragedy would derail talks proved unfounded. Shortly after the news from New York broke, Mr. Zoellick headed into a trade meeting surrounded by bodyguards that have accompanied him since the conference began on Friday.
The ministers held a minute of silence for the victims of yesterday’s crash, Mr. Moore said.
The patent agreement marks a milestone in the campaign by poor countries in Africa and Latin American to secure cheaper supplies of drugs that fight pandemics such as AIDS and malaria.
It essentially clarifies existing WTO rules on patents to highlight the flexibility that governments have in overriding patents on key pharmaceuticals.
Brazil, which led the fight against the United States and Switzerland, cheered the outcome in Qatar.
“It deals with an issue that is on the agenda of public opinion worldwide,” said Foreign Minister Celso Lafer.
The United States did not comment on the deal.
Nongovernmental groups, who have mounted a ferocious campaign in support of WTO rules, grumbled that the deal did not go far enough.
“It leaves the door open to further discussion, debate and pressure,” said Asia Russell, who works with the U.S.-based group Health Gap.
But pharmaceutical industry lobbyists, who nervously prowled the halls of the Sheraton, hit the roof.
Weaker patent protection will kill incentives for research that can cost $1 billion per new anti-AIDS drug, said Harvey Bale, director-general of the Geneva-based International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Associations.
“I don’t see companies betting the farm on an area that has become so controversial,” he said.
Both the United States and the European Union found themselves facing down vocal domestic constituencies as part of the deal-making process.
Europe’s farmers, a major political force, opposed WTO talks that will eliminate their subsidies for exports of agricultural products. And they have the backing of France, a key European Union member.
“I would like to see a deal [in Doha] but not a deal at any price,” said French Finance Minister Laurent Fabius.
Meanwhile, the United States hinted that it would agree to negotiate changes to a system for blocking imports of goods “dumped” on the U.S. market at unreasonably low prices.
Geoff Gamble, counsel for chemical giant Dupont, said new talks would negate U.S. procedures that have strong support in Congress.
“It’s like opening the barn door and then trying to hold the horse back,” he said.
Industry lobbyists were trying to persuade Republican senators to call Mr. Zoellick and pressure him to scuttle the deal.

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