Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) working on issues of trade, intellectual property, access to medicines, food and seed in Uganda have petitioned the European Union and United States on the manner in which discussions to grant an extension for enforcement of intellectual property rights are being handled.
The CSOs say the process favours rich countries. The WTO (World Trade Organization)’s Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS) agreement sets down minimum standards for many forms of intellectual property regulations as applied to nationals of other WTO members like Uganda.
But due to capacity constraints to develop a viable and competitive technology base, poor countries like Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi, categorised as Least Developed Countries (LDCs), are unable to beat the suggested five-year deadline to have the requisite technologies in place.
Intellectual property refers to a bundle of rights awarded by society to individuals or organisations over their creative inventions, literary and artistic works, symbols and names. It remains a highly contested area even with all the funds pumped into the process to simplify it.
In a May 22letter issued to the WTO Council Chair and developed country missions in Uganda, the CSOs expressed their disapproval of the manner in which the negotiations for the request to extend the time within which LDCs can enforce TRIPS, saying it is unacceptable.
“This is unacceptable. The TRIPS agreement states that upon a duly motivated request, the TRIPS council shall grant an extension. LDCs, to which Uganda is categorised, are justified in seeking an unlimited extension for so long as they are so classified because the suggested 5-7 years will not give us adequate time to overcome capacity constraints to develop a viable and competitive technological base,” said Moses Mulumba, director of the Centre for Health, Human Rights and Development (CEHURD).
In agreement, Joshua Wamboga, from The Aids Support Organisation (TASO) notes: “The ability to access cheap medicines on the market will be curtailed and the fight against HIV/Aids in Uganda may be lost if expansive trade laws are adopted without improving the incomes of Ugandans.”
In Uganda, almost 90% of drugs in use are imported, the majority of which are generic versions from India, which is also party to the TRIPS agreement. As per requirements under TRIPS, India grants product patents for drugs and pharmaceuticals while Uganda does not.
This has impacted the accessibility and affordability of cheap life-saving drugs as Uganda does not have the capacity to provide drugs for its entire population.
In November 2012, Haiti (the then chair of LDCs at the TRIPS Council) submitted a request on behalf of all LDCs to the WTO TRIPS Council for an extension of the LDC transition period until a member ceases to be a LDC. This request has receor development.