EU Trade Commissioner Backs LDC Request for TRIPS Exemption for Pharmaceuticals Until Graduation from LDC Status

In a comprehensive, 2000 word speech to the European Parliament's International Trade Committee (INTA) on Modernising Trade Policy - Effectiveness and Responsibility, European Trade Commissioner, Cecilia Malmström, cast a wide net in her speech covering in her words, 1) the "benefits of trade for all: our economy in general, consumers, entrepreneurs, SMEs and the poorest countries", 2) "trade policy's commitment to our values in the world, supporting our foreign policy, promoting the respect of human rights, social and environmental rules" and 3) "transparency and accountability."

Embedded in the section extolling the benefits of trade, Commissioner Malmström provided the clearest signal of the position of the European Union concerning the LDC Group's request to the World Trade Organization's (WTO) TRIPS Council on an extension of the transition period for pharmaceuticals (that expires on 1 January 2016). For a detailed treatment of the rationale of this submission, please see the June 2015 presentation by the LDC Group of their request: http://keionline.org/node/2245.

In Commissioner Malmström's statement to the European Parliament, she articulated the following position:

By the way, we don't have to wait until the communication is published to take action to support the world's least developed countries. They have requested an exemption from the WTO's intellectual property rules on access to medicines, for as long as they remain LDCs. Provided I have the backing of the College of Commissioners, the Council and this Parliament, I want to respond positively to that request.

Since extension until graduation remains a central arc in the LDC Group's proposal, there remains reason to be cautiously optimistic that the European Union will do the right thing by a group that represents the "weakest and most vulnerable group of the community of nations" (provided the College of Commissioners, the Council and the Parliament provide their assent).

Now public scrutiny will turn to the positions of the United States, Japan, Switzerland and Canada.

The inimitable words of Uganda, presenting on behalf of the LDC Group at the June 2015 WTO TRIPS Council serve as a stark reminder of the gravity of the LDC Group's request:

It would be unconscionable for WTO Members to grant LDCs – the most vulnerable segment of countries – a time limited transition period, requiring them to repeatedly seek extensions. A time limited transition period creates an uncertain environment for the producers of affordable medicines, procurement agencies, donors as well as LDC governments that rely on the specific pharmaceutical transition period to produce and import affordable medicines. This in turn jeopardizes the health situation of the people and communities within LDCs, with especially adverse consequences for the scaling up of HIV/AIDS treatment. LDCs cannot deal with increasing communicable and non-communicable disease burden without the assurance of continuous availability of generic medicines as long as they remain LDCs.

In closing Chair, Considering that our health needs persist, and in many ways are growing because of the continued threat of infectious, neglected, and non-communicable diseases and other new emerging diseases. As evidenced by our continuing LDC status, we still face unrelenting development and capacity challenges. To address these pressing public health needs, to secure the ability to progressively realize the right to health, and to ensure our continuing right of access to more affordable medicines of assured quality; we the Least Developed Countries call upon you and the Council to grant the extension of the transitional period under Article 66.1 of the TRIPS Agreement for Least Developed Countries with respect to Pharmaceutical Products, and for waivers from the obligation of Articles 70.8 and 70.9 for as long as the member is an LDC.