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Swiss regret collapse of WTO drugs deal

Switzerland has expressed dismay at the failure of the World Trade Organization (WTO) to broker a global deal to allow poor countries to buy cheap drugs.

The talks in Geneva collapsed on Saturday after the United States blocked the deal, saying it was too flexible.

The accord would have given millions of people in developing countries access to medicines for epidemics such as HIV/Aids and malaria.

Switzerland - one of the worlds' biggest exporters of pharmaceutical products - accepted the draft agreement.

"Switzerland regrets that it has not been possible to reach agreement at the WTO... on the question of improving the access to medication under patents for developing countries who do not have the means of production in the pharmaceutical sector," said the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (Seco) in statement on Sunday.

"Switzerland attaches great importance to all rapid and efficient measures that help reduce the suffering of victims of epidemics in poor developing countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa."

US block

Diplomats say that the US blocked the agreement - already accepted by 143 other WTO members - because it felt the deal would allow too many drug patents to be ignored.

The US favours limiting the pact to drugs to fight HIV/Aids, malaria and other infectious epidemics and does not want to include non-infectious diseases such as asthma and diabetes.

According to Seco, Switzerland agrees that the deal should cover the infectious diseases and other similar epidemics.

The statement also raised concerns that cheap medication should not be re-exported to industrialised nations. Seco suggested that this could be combated by special packaging.

Talks have now been rescheduled for February. Seco said that Switzerland would continue to play an active part in the negotiations.

Criticism

Despite acceptance of the draft agreement, non-governmental organisations such as Médecins sans Frontières accused key countries of being more concerned with the interests of pharmaceutical firms, rather than humanitarian issues.

The group included Switzerland in its criticism, calling for a rethink on the agreement.

They must accept "a fair text that gives priority to people's health", MSF said.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

The Swiss regret collapes of deal to give poorer countries access to cheaper drugs to help combat epidemics.

The deal was blocked by the US.

Many developing countries cannot manufacture such drugs themselves and want the right to import copies of certain patented medicines.

Current World Trade Organization regulations mean developing countries can only import generic drugs from a limited number of sources.

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