Poor countries are allowed to import generic medicines, World Trade Organization (WTO) director general Roberto Azevedo said on Monday, after the required two-thirds of members agreed a deal that has taken more than a decade to finalise.
The amendment permanently changes the WTO’s Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS) agreement, cementing what had been a temporary waiver, to allow poor countries that cannot produce their own generic medicines to import them.
“The TRIPS amendment is coming into force today,” Azevedo told Reuters, referring to the first ever amendment to the original 1995 WTO rulebook.
The original TRIPS agreement allowed governments of poor and developing countries to produce generic medicines for their domestic markets without the patent owners’ consent, under so-called “compulsory licensing” arrangements.
But that still meant poorer countries without manufacturing capacity could not access those drugs because there was no provision for importing them.
In 2003, WTO members agreed to give such countries a temporary waiver, which has been renewed every two years. In 2005, they agreed to make the waiver permanent, subject to the agreement of two-thirds of the WTO’s 164 members.