TWN Info Service on WTO Issues (Aug03/21)

Geneva, August 29, 2003

Third World Network

Dear friends and colleagues

Re: TRIPS and Public Health:  No agreement on Chair’s statement of understanding

There has been no agreement on the TRIPS Paragraph 6 issue. The General Council was suspended in the early hours of Friday morning (August 29) after failure to reach agreement. Below is a brief report of the negotiations. A more detailed account will follow. We hope it is of use.

With best wishes,

Cecilia Oh and Goh Chien Yen

Third World Network


No deal yet on TRIPS and public health

The widely expected agreement on the TRIPS and public health issue has not happened. After a very long evening of consultations and suspended meetings, the General Council met briefly at around 1.00am, during which the General Council Chair announced that further consultations would be required before agreement could be reached on the Chair’s statement of understanding and, by implication, the December 16 text.   It is understood that the General Council Chair will conduct open-ended consultations on Friday (29 Sept) but expectations are reportedly not high that an agreement will be reached.   It is possible that the Paragraph 6 issue will be brought over to Cancun. 

It is understood that a number of developing countries had indicated that they had reservations about the statement of understanding, drafted by TRIPS Council Chair, as an interpretative note to December 16 text. It is widely known that the statement of understanding is intended to provide ‘comfort language’ that would enable the US to join consensus on the December 16 text.

The failure to reach agreement is a surprising turn of events. Agreement on the Chair’s statement of understanding had seemed close at hand, when Members met on Wednesday August 27 at an informal TRIPS Council meeting. Several countries (both developed and developing) had then indicated their general support (subject to confirmation of instructions from capitals) for the statement of understanding.

However, as the hours passed in the afternoon and evening of August 28, it became more and more apparent that the expected easy passage of an agreement was not going to take place.  An informal TRIPS Council meeting, which had been scheduled for 4.30pm was suspended/postponed several times during the course of the evening.  Reportedly, one or more of the members, including Kenya, were waiting for further instructions from capital and in the meanwhile could not endorse the Chairman’s statement.

A formal TRIPS Council meeting was convened at around 11.30pm, during which the Philippines made an intervention outlining their understanding of the Chair’s statement.   This prompted a number of other Members (apparently about 14-15) to indicate their intention to make interventions.

At this point, before further interventions from members were made, it was decided that the TRIPS Council meeting would end, and that both the December 16 text and the Chair’s statement of understanding would be transmitted to the General Council for consideration and approval.  It is understood that a number of Members had made it known that they intended to make statements at the General Council before the adoption of the texts.

However, the General Council meeting did not take place until 1.00am on the morning of Friday 29 August.    It is understood that the delay had been due to informal consultations held with some of the Members, apparently to dissuade them from making their statements at the General Council. According to trade officials, it became clear during the consultations that a large number (about two dozen or more) of Members had concerns about the Chair’s statement as it stood and would like to make statements about their interpretation of it.  They had different interpretations on almost all elements of the text, and on the relationship between the Chair’s understanding and the December 16/Motta text.

When the General Council finally met at 1.10 a.m. on Friday morning (29 August), it was in an informal mode wherein the Chair informed Members of the problem with differing interpretations, which went well beyond one or two countries.   The General Council Chairman, Carlos Pérez del Castillo, reportedly said that while all delegations were willing to join a consensus in adopting the decision and chair’s statement, several delegations said this would have to be based on their own declared interpretation of these texts. This would clash with the purpose of the proposed chair’s statement, which says it (the statement) “represents several key shared understandings of Members regarding the Decision to be taken and the way in which it will be interpreted and implemented”.

A subject as important as this could not be treated lightly and could not be settled with different interpretations, Amb. Pérez del Castillo said. He therefore asked for more time to hold consultations.  The General Council was therefore suspended and he will reconvene it when he feels important elements are ready for consensus, he concluded.

The Chair is expected to hold open-ended consultations on Friday 29 August.

According to trade officials, it now seems that it would be more difficult and unlikely that this issue would be resolved before Cancun.