Business Day, 02 December 2002, EU head pledges help on generic medicines

EUROPEAN Union (EU) trade commissioner Pascal Lamy has pledged that Europe will play a bridging role between rich nations and the developing world so that poorer countries can produce or import cheap generic drugs to treat major diseases such as HIV/AIDS.

"I have a policy objective to have this problem resolved by the end of this year," he said in an interview yesterday.

The EU is one of the key players in global trade. Its backing is vital for the envisaged deal to allow developing nations to bypass patent laws in gaining access to vitally needed medicines.

Lamy was speaking in Johannesburg on World Aids Day, at the end of a week's tour to southern Africa.

He said more funds had to be found to finance research for a cure and a vaccine for HIV/AIDS. He also said that there had also to be a deal at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) by the end of this month to make medicines more affordable in the developing world. WTO trade ministers came close to a final deal at an informal meeting in Sydney least month.

Lamy said the EU was in a "brokering position" between the US, Japan and Switzerland on the one hand, and developing nations such as India and Brazil on the other. A key challenge in the coming weeks was to reduce the levels of suspicion that each side regards the other.

"The problem is an urgent one it's a question of stabilising the research efforts of the pharmaceutical industry, as it needs predictability and stability. On the other side, given the urgency of epidemics in many countries, and especially here in Africa, the public authorities also need the necessary stability and predictability," he said.

Lamy held private talks at the weekend with SA Trade and Industry Minister Alec Erwin, in which the issue of securing cheap medicines for developing nations was discussed. He said he would expect a deal in Geneva to allow SA to both import and manufacture generic medicines for local use and for export to other developing nations.

However, he said a WTO deal would require safeguards to prevent generic drugs which are made in the developing world from being diverted to developed countries.

He also rejected criticism that the EU was dragging its feet on agriculture in the current Doha global trade talks.