TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Feb12/01)
NGOs around the world are concerned with the upcoming Africa IP Summit that will be held in April in South Africa.
Please see below a letter from many NGOs to Mr. Francis Gurry on the Africa IP Summit.
7th February 2012
Africa IP Summit: Lacking a Development Dimension
Dear Mr. Gurry,
In 2004, the WIPO Development Agenda was launched amidst significant concerns that WIPO’s activities lacked a development dimension, undermined public interest, while promoting the interests of IP holders. The Development Agenda received widespread global support leading to the adoption of 45 Development Agenda recommendations in 2007.
We believe that at the core of these recommendations is the need for WIPO to ensure that a balanced and evidence based agenda on intellectual property is promoted taking into account the different levels of development and public interest considerations. Principles of transparency and avoiding of conflicts of interests also underpin these recommendations.
In view of this, we note with significant disappointment and concern the context in which the upcoming Africa IP Summit will be held. Some key concerns are:
of Interest: It is worrying to see that a major
event such as an Africa wide forum is being co-organised in partnership
with US, France and Japan. These governments are known for advocating
TRIPS plus agendas in developing countries in the interests of their
own industries and priorities. For instance these countries are proponents
of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), a plurilateral treaty
that is widely criticized for its secret negotiating process and the
detrimental impact on public interest issues such as access to medicines,
freedom of expression over the internet and access to knowledge. One
key aim of the treaty is to export these problematic IP enforcement
standards to developing countries.
To make matters worse the Summit is being sponsored by the private sector in particular the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), Business Action to Stop Counterfeiting and Piracy (BASCAP), Pfizer, Eli Lilly and Company etc., that clearly have a strong stake in a pro-IP protection and enforcement agenda . The involvement of the private sector also raises issues of conflict of interests.
WIPO being an intergovernmental and a specialized agency of the UN must take immediate measures to ensure that all its activities are evidence based, free of conflicts of interests and undue influence of actors that are known to promote an unbalanced IP agenda.
Lacking a development and public interest dimension: The Africa IP Summit concept paper suggests a programme that undermines the spirit of Development Agenda. It is premised on the notion that heightened IP protection and enforcement will deliver development and protect public interest. This distorted approach has no historical or empirical basis and has been clearly rejected by the Development Agenda process. Important development issues such as the different levels of development, the importance of flexibilities (e.g. LDC transition periods, exceptions and limitations (e.g. parallel importation, compulsory licensing,) in meeting developmental objectives, examining and addressing the impact of IP on critical public interests issues such as access to affordable medicines, and access to knowledge, appear to be disregarded.
Even more worrying is that the Summit aims to promote the link between IP enforcement and public health and safety, presumably to frighten people into accepting inappropriate standards of IP enforcement agenda. We stress that an IP enforcement framework will not deliver effective public health protection as IP rights are not granted on the basis of the quality and safety of the product. Instead inappropriate standards of IP enforcement are likely to hinder public health such as access to affordable medicines. This has been amply demonstrated by the many seizures of quality generic medicines in transit at various European ports.
Lobbying by some multinational companies and their developed country governments in linking IP enforcement to public health has led to a proliferation of anti-counterfeiting bills in many African countries as well as at the regional level, most notably in East Africa. The enactment of these bills is usually promoted on public health grounds. However in reality these bills are only about protecting the rights of IP holders and are in fact “TRIPS plus plus” in so many ways, containing provisions that undermine flexibilities and that are detrimental to national developmental objectives such as building local production capacity, scaling up access to affordable medicines and improving access to knowledge. For example, most of these bills define “Counterfeit” products as being substantially similar or identical to IP protected products, which effectively makes every generic pharmaceutical a counterfeit. In Kenya, enactment of the Anti-Counterfeit Act 2008 has been challenged by people living with HIV/AIDS on the grounds that enforcement and application of the Act will deny them access to affordable essential medicines and thus deny their Right to Life.
Noting the controversies surrounding these bills, it is inappropriate for WIPO to be championing the strengthening of IP enforcement on alleged public health grounds.
Further we stress that addressing the issue of substandard, poor quality medicines (also often labeled as “counterfeit medicines”) is not within the mandate of WIPO but a responsibility of the World Health Organization. Dealing with the problem of “counterfeit medicines” requires a focus not on IP enforcement but on building regulatory capacity and ensuring access to affordable medicines. A process is already underway at the WHO to address this. Apart from medicines, it is also not within WIPO’s mandate to deal with other poor quality, substandard products thus it is surprising that the Africa IP Summit is heavily focused on this issue.
Lack of Transparency & Information: According to available information, the WIPO and African regional IP organizations are key partners in the organization of the Africa IP Summit. However to date there appears to be no information available on WIPO’s website about this Summit. This undermines implementation of the Development Agenda recommendation on transparency.
Further the US government website  states that registration request will not guarantee participation and that the participants will be selected. However no information is being provided on the criteria that will be the basis for selection.
Following the above concerns, we demand that: WIPO postpone the holding of the Africa wide IP Summit. WIPO should also reconsider its partnership with the different interests involved and work to organize a balanced forum that is development oriented and upholds public interests aswell as that is free of any conflicts of interests and influence of actors that tend to promote an unbalanced IP agenda. The process of organizing such a forum, (i.e. the selection of speakers, the drafting of the programme, criteria for selection of participants) should be transparent and all information should be promptly available on WIPO’s website. Further we also call on WIPO to avoid partnering actors that tend topromote an unbalanced IP agenda in all its future activities.
Paulin Edou Edou