Least-developed country (LDC) members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) have requested an extension that would enable them to remain exempt from implementing some intellectual property rules expiring next year, including for medicines. MSF urges all WTO members to support this request.
MSF works in more than 20 LDCs, facing multiple challenges including disease outbreaks, conflicts and natural disasters. The COVID-19 pandemic has heavily hit some LDCs already facing long-term challenges of fragile health care systems and lack of access to affordable medical tools.
Ahead of a transition period that allows least-developed countries (LDCs) to avoid introducing some intellectual property (IP) rules expiring next year, LDC members of the World Trade Organization (WTO), led by Chad, have requested an extension that would enable them to remain exempt from implementing nearly all provisions of the TRIPS (Trade-related Intellectual Property Rights) agreement, including for pharmaceutical products, until they are no longer classified as ‘least developed’. MSF urges all WTO members to unequivocally support this request.
The current deadline (1 July 2021) was granted as a compromise in 2013 when the LDC members’ request for an open-ended exemption was deliberately ignored by the US and EU. MSF has long advocated for such an exemption to be open-ended and not subject to any conditions.
Today, through our work in more than 20 LDCs, we witness the difficulties of countries facing multiple challenges including disease outbreaks, conflicts and natural disasters. The COVID-19 pandemic has heavily affected some LDCs already facing long-term challenges of fragile health care systems and lack of sustainable access to affordable medical tools. Only a handful of LDCs have started to develop their own manufacturing capacities. This insufficient technological and industrial base in many LDCs hinders their opportunities of rapidly developing and producing needed medical tools. Exemption from the IP rules under the TRIPS agreement during the LDC transition period would provide the maximum policy space for LDCs to develop their needed capacities, and ensure unhindered access to more affordable generic medicines.
We encourage WTO members to recognise the practical and real challenges facing LDCs and provide full support to the request for an open-ended extension of LDC exemption from most of the TRIPS obligations.