12 September 2002
Oxfam's Initial Response to UK Government Commission on Intellectual Property Rights
Oxfam welcomes the CIPR report which provides a powerful evidence-based critique of the heath and development problems caused by the one-size-fits-all approach of WTO patent rules (TRIPS). The report's findings reflect many of the concerns expressed by developing countries, academics, NGOs and others about the application of rich country intellectual property (IP) standards to poor countries and medicines. It also recognizes the excessive corporate influence there has been over global IP rules.
The report also picks up many of the recommendations put forward by developing countries and NGOs on health and development. Encouragingly, it reaffirms that private IP rights should not take precedence over human rights, makes useful recommendations about how developing countries can make maximum use of the existing flexibilities within TRIPS, proposes extending implementation deadlines for least developed countries, and calls for an end to rich country pressure to get poor countries to implement standards or timetables which go beyond their TRIPS commitments (TRIPS-plus). If implemented these proposals could bring important benefits to poor countries.
We hope that the UK government will consult with developing country governments and civil society about the best way to take forward these important findings. A vital first step will be for WTO members to agree to lift TRIPS restrictions on exports of generic medicines to all developing countries.
This was a commitment made at the WTO Doha Ministerial in November 2001 that some rich countries are now seeking to water down.
Although the main thrust of the report is that TRIPS is essentially bad for development, the recommendations fall short of calling for its reform. This reflects, in part, the authors' pessimism about current power imbalances at the WTO. They fear that, in the horse-trading that characterises WTO trade negotiations, poor countries will have to pay too high a price for TRIPS' reform. But this approach leaves a bad Agreement intact and embroils developing countries in a complicated damage limitation exercise for which many are ill-equipped. In short, while it rescues much of the crockery, it leaves the elephant in the kitchen. Oxfam would prefer to see the elephant removed. One way of doing so would be by extending the implementation deadlines for developing, as well as least developed, countries.
The onus is on rich country governments to disprove this pessimistic assessment of the new 'development' round of trade negotiations. To this end we urge the UK Government to use the report's findings to call for a substantive review and revision of TRIPS outside of the current trade negotiations. Such a step would demonstrate a genuine commitment by rich country governments to transform the WTO from a rich man's club to one that puts poverty reduction at the top of its agenda, as promised at Doha in 2001.
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