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Intellectual Property

In the early 1990s, a first aspect of the health sector -- patented drugs -- burst quite unexpectedly into the trade forum: the ongoing Uruguay Round was in disarray, and the support of sectors using intellectual property rights (IPRs) intensively became essential to move it forward. Indeed, the Uruguay Round Agreement was signed in 1994 largely because it included a then much praised Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights Agreement (TRIPs).

During the 2001 WTO Doha Ministerial, the spread of AIDS in developing countries during the previous decade fuelled a bitter debate about access to “essential” medicines, particularly for people in the poorest countries. This debate raised a wide range of issues—from whether the WTO was the best place to enforce IPR protection to how to make the best possible use of the TRIPs Agreement (since it existed). The debate ended up with an agreement about the conditions for free access to drugs by the poorest countries having no domestic drug production (it remains to be seen how this agreement will be implemented)

Since the Doha Ministerial, another component of the health sector - health care services - has entered the WTO forum, with some WTO Members vehemently opposed to this evolution, but others (developing as well as developed countries) showing a strong interest. Interestingly enough, there is a similar debate within the European Union (EU) about the proposal, included in the Directive on service, of reimbursing health costs to a EU citizen, wherever he/she will be cured.

A last IPR issue looms big at the horizon: the rules to be adopted for “geographical indications”, that is, indications which identify a good as originating from a country, or a region or a locality in that territory, as an attribute for a given quality or other characteristics of the goods (such as Champagne, Tequila or Roquefort). This last issue is closely linked with farm trade liberalisation.


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