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WTO delegates reach preliminary medications accord

Pharmaceutical companies want protection from cheap copies of their products made in poorer countries Keystone Archive

Members of the World Trade Organisation in Qatar have reached an agreement in principle on developing nations' access to medications.

In Switzerland, such an agreement would affect a number of the country’s pharmaceutical companies.

In a lengthy late-night negotiating session, the ministers meeting in Doha, Qatar reached a compromise that is expected to be voted on by the WTO assembly on Tuesday.

One sticking point for Switzerland as well as the United States has been the issue of intellectual property rights – particularly the protection of pharmaceutical companies’ rights to the medications they have developed.

Trade ministers said the preliminary agreement would allow the protection of public health and access to medications by poorer countries beset by such public health crises as Aids.

Switzerland, the United States and Canada sought to safeguard the patents of pharmaceutical groups in order to avoid a reduction in spending for medical research.

Access by poorer countries

Members of the WTO have been attempting to reach a compromise which protects the pharmaceutical patents while allowing countries the most affected by pandemics to have access to lower-cost medications.

As the delegates haggled over the wording of agreements, and tried to define such terms as “public health crises”, some representatives to the Doha conference predicted that the issues could take longer to resolve than expected.

“Some ministers have already booked their hotel rooms until Thursday,” said senior Swiss negotiator Luzius Wasescha.

The 142 member governments of the WTO are attempting to liberalise the process of global trade.

In addition to the medications issue, they are wrangling over agricultural subsidies and a host of other issues, including export subsidies and enforcement of trade agreements.

swissinfo with agencies

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR