The Hon. Mark Vaile, MP
The Hon. Mark Vaile, MP

Media Release

31 August 2003 - MVT67

Vaile Welcomes Breakthrough on Access to Medicines

Trade Minister Mark Vaile today welcomed the breakthrough achieved in Geneva last night in World Trade Organization talks on enabling poorer countries better access to affordable pharmaceuticals.

" As the WTO Director General Supachai Panitchpakdi has noted, this is an historic agreement. It is a further demonstration that the WTO is able to respond to the public health problems faced by developing countries, and to make its contribution to broader domestic and global action to address this crucial social issue," Mr Vaile said.

The decision will enable poor countries which lack manufacturing capacity in the pharmaceutical sector to make use of so-called compulsory licensing, which allows production of a patented pharmaceutical product without the consent of the patent holder under certain circumstances. It follows on from the declaration on intellectual property and public health that was adopted at the WTO Doha Ministerial meeting in November 2001, which reinforced the existing flexibilities under WTO intellectual property rules that can assist developing countries to access cheaper medicines.

Mr Vaile said that this was an important breakthrough for those poorer countries facing serious public health problems.

" I have consistently said, particularly since the Sydney WTO informal ministerial meeting in November last year, that all WTO member countries had a moral obligation to resolve this issue. The problems poorer countries face in dealing with ravaging diseases such as HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis are immense. After many months of work, all WTO members have agreed an outcome that will allow these countries better access to affordable medicines."

Mr Vaile said he appreciated that some observers had sought a different technical solution to that which was finally agreed. "This decision is one endorsed by all WTO members. Now we must move past old battle lines and all work to ensure the solution makes its contribution to dealing with the public health problems poorer countries face," Mr Vaile said.

Mr Vaile added that resolution of this issue now was a good signal for the WTO Ministerial Conference to be held in Cancun, Mexico, from 10 to 14 September. "This decision underlines that in Cancun we must achieve something that will allow developing countries some better prospect of escaping poverty and all its problems, namely fundamental reform of world agricultural trade"

Contact: Matthew Doman 02 6277 7420

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