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WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy gave the keynote address at the 23rd Annual Meeting of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufactures and Associations (IFPMA) yesterday. While focusing primarily on the "stalled" Doha negotiations, he acknowledged many of the efforts that pharmaceutical companies are doing to increase access to medicine and subtly promoted the use of compulsory licenses for developing countries:

I would like to thank you and your governments for the continuous efforts to increase and improve access to cheap medicines, including the recent proposal by Switzerland and the United States to expand the membership of those Members willing to bring import tariff duties to zero on medicines. This type of measures can reduce the cost of healthcare through the substantial elimination or reduction of tariffs and specific non-tariff barriers affecting the trade in medicines. In fact, the Uruguay Round zero duty initiative for pharmaceutical and medicine products has been the most successful sectoral initiative: its coverage has increased and so has its membership. Together with the new WTO provision on access to medicine allowing for compulsory licenses by poor countries that do not have any manufacturing facilities, these initiatives can make an important difference in saving people's life or in ensuring that more people can afford minimum medical treatment. And providing the evidence that trade can work to improve health conditions which we know is essential to economic and social development.

I have always believed deeply in the need to offer more protection to weaker victims of globalization; and as diseases cross frontiers -- in fact we now speak of the "sovereignty of disease" over that of States -- our globalized world response must always remain ultimately focussed on human beings. And this is one of the reason why I have personally invested so much in the debate on access to medicines. And thanks to all of you, I hope we've made it possible now.

Based on Andrew Jack's coverage in the Financial Times, though, it sounds like Lamy's speech diverged a bit from the prepared remarks above in order to focus more explicitly on the patent issue:

Pascal Lamy told the annual meeting of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers' Associations in Geneva that developing countries should use the so-called trade-related aspects of intellectual property provisions (Trips) already agreed in the Doha trade round.

He said the WTO had not received a single notification of a developing country issuing a compulsory licence, while stressing that the very threat of their use may have been enough to persuade patent-holding companies to cut prices on their drugs.

"To be frank, I see that as a problem," he said, arguing that it was cited by some as proof that the current flexibilities were too complex to be used in practice.

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CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.