Minister of Trade Tim Groser announced today that New Zealand will join a long list of countries accepting an amendment to WTO rules that will make it easier to export generic drugs to developing countries.
It means that countries faced with public health problems, such as HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, can import generic copies of patented drugs if they cannot manufacture the drugs themselves.
“Affordable access to medicines makes a critical difference to developing countries,” Mr Groser says.
“New Zealand supports the principle that all countries have the right to protect public health.”
The Protocol covers patent provisions in the World Trade Organisation’s Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, and has been in place on a temporary basis since 2003.
New Zealand played an active role in negotiating the basis of the Protocol.
Once New Zealand has made changes to its patent laws (as part of the pending Patents Bill), New Zealand will become an “exporting member” under the Protocol. This will allow New Zealand to issue compulsory licenses for the export of generic copies of patented pharmaceuticals to countries facing public health crises if so asked by those countries.
In August 2003, during the lead-up to the Cancun Ministerial, WTO Members granted a temporary waiver from TRIPS rules that enables developing countries, faced with serious public health problems such as AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and other epidemics, to import generic copies of patented drugs produced under compulsory licence in another country.
In December 2005, Members converted this waiver into a permanent amendment to the TRIPS Agreement; called the Protocol Amending the TRIPS Agreement (“the Protocol”).
The Protocol will come into force once it has been accepted by two thirds of WTO members.
The text of the Protocol is available on the WTO website (www.wto.org).