Global standoff looms between US, developing nations over WTO waiver extension
- A waiver which exempts UN-classified least-developed countries (LDCs) from patent laws expires on January 1, 2016.
- The 48 LDCs are seeking an unconditional extension of the World Trade Organization (WTO)-granted waiver.
- But U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman has objected to an unconditional extension of the waiver. Many advocates have come out on the side of the LDCs, including the World Health Organization (WHO), the European Commission, and the Vatican.
For people in poorer countries, known as LDCs, critical access to medications comes through various channels, including non-profits and various health programs. Much of the medicine is supplied by generics manufacturers, which are exempt from patent-infringement laws, because of a waiver that was put in place by the WTO 15 years ago. Now, however, the waiver is close to expiring, and in lieu of simply extending it unconditionally, Representative Froman would like to limit the extension, though specifics have not been revealed.
LDC advocates are pushing back against the re-implementation of a system that would severely curtail their access to affordable drugs—and they have support at all levels. In a recent letter from Congressman Bernie Sanders (D-VT), he made the case for extending the waiver indefinitely, based on what he calls an urgent situation. In the letter, Sanders explained that the average income in the LDCs is less than $1,000 per year, and that only 34% of the population in these countries has electricity.
A decision is expected at the upcoming WTO council meeting in mid-October.