World Trade Organization members said they would take time off to regroup after talks on drug patents fell apart last week.
The United States was the lone holdout in Geneva on a plan to allow poor countries to waive patents and use generic drugs when treating infectious epidemics, but quickly announced an interim proposal in an attempt to limit fallout.
The Bush administration is looking for other countries to join a short-term compromise that would allow poor countries to break drug-patent rules when treating epidemics. The administration said it would not challenge WTO members that break drug export rules.
During talks leading up to Saturday’s breakdown, the United States and other nations with strong pharmaceutical industries resisted a wider interpretation of rules. By the weekend, all other countries in the 144-nation group approved wording that would move talks forward.
The U.S. position limited the waiver to HIV, AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and infectious epidemics of comparable gravity. Developing countries wanted to avoid naming specific diseases and maintain more flexibility.
Talks on other special measures for poor countries also collapsed last week.
The failures broke the WTO’s year-end deadline for the talks and threatened its 2003 timeline for a wide-ranging round of negotiations on international trade and investment.
“Failure to meet the deadlines in these negotiations has been quite disappointing,” Supachai Panitchpakdi, the WTO’s director general, said in a statement.
Delegates will discuss the intellectual-property issue in January and hope to resolve it before a formal WTO meeting Feb. 10.
Switzerland, which held a position similar to the United States’ through most of the talks, Monday was the first to agree to adopt the U.S. proposal.
“As an immediate interim measure Switzerland renounces to initiate dispute settlement procedures in WTO against those countries which will export patented drugs to poor developing countries in order to fight epidemics,” Switzerland’s government said in a statement.
“In the short term, that’s the only thing you can do,” said an official at the Canadian Embassy in Washington. Canada also worked closely with the United States during talks.
The Canadian official said enough negotiation space and time remained to work out a compromise but cautioned that the issue had become politically charged.
Among developing nations, the American position is widely blamed for derailing talks.
“Rich-country governments choosing to please powerful lobbies are undermining the WTO much more effectively than any protesters,” said Celine Charveria, a Geneva representative for Oxfam, a group that wanted wider acceptance of drug-patent waivers.
Protesters have disrupted WTO proceedings in the past, most notably during a 1999 meeting in Seattle.