- The Washington Times - Monday, September 1, 2003

GENEVA (Agence France-Presse) — A weekend deal on granting access to generic drugs for poor countries lifts a major hurdle to a wide-ranging trade accord and puts agriculture back at the center of focus in advance of a World Trade Organization summit in Cancun, Mexico.

“We are certainly more optimistic than before to get something substantial in Cancun,” a source close to the WTO talks said yesterday.

Agreement reached Saturday by the 146-member WTO on improving access to generic drugs so poor countries can better fight diseases like AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis cleared the way to the Cancun meeting Sept. 10-14.

“If it had popped up in Cancun, negotiations would have been in real trouble,” the source said.

A European source in Geneva said the weekend accord “is very, very important politically.”

“It’s a good sign, before getting started [in Mexico], that the ministers’ time will not be wasted on this very technical issue,” the source said.

The Cancun conference is aimed at giving a boost to the Doha round of global trade talks — started in the Qatari capital at the end of 2001 — that are supposed to be wrapped up by Jan. 1, 2005.

Those talks target development of the world’s poorest countries, which seek concrete measures by developed nations before further opening domestic markets.

Given those goals, the issues of generic drugs and agricultural products became top priorities, with developing countries demanding progress before granting concessions on trade in industrial products, services, investments or access to public markets.

With the pharmaceutical accord settled, the potentially more difficult issue of agriculture now should take center stage.

“Without an accord on medicines, everything would have been very difficult in Cancun,” said Luiz Felipe de Seixas Correa, Brazil’s ambassador to the WTO. “But that does not mean that with an accord everything will now be easy.”

Success of the Doha round depended on opening developed countries’ markets to agricultural products, he added.

“If we don’t find a solution to the agricultural question, we won’t negotiate on the others.”

In mid-August, the United States and the European Union agreed on a common position that would reduce subsidies to their respective farmers. But an accord between the world’s two biggest economic powers does not ensure that other WTO member countries will sign on to the deal.

A week after the agreement, a group of 20 developing countries, including Brazil, China and India filed other propositions asking rich countries for greater agricultural concessions, in particular the total abolition of export subsidies.

Although the pharmaceutical agreement demonstrated that countries were ready to make an effort in advance of the Cancun conference, “good will is not enough,” the source close to the talks stressed.

When it comes to agricultural issues, “even if there is more good will between members, they are all looking back at domestic policies.”

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