By Joan Akello
Civil society organizations (CSOs) in Uganda have organized a peaceful protest to the offices of Head of European Union Delegation to stop Least Developed Countries (LDCs) such as Uganda to uphold the Trade Related aspects of Intellectual property (TRIPS). The activists said they will thereafter proceed to parliament to express support for the East African Parliament’s commitment to defend the right of LDCs to secure unconditional extension.
The group says, “The United States , EU, and Australia are continuing their aggressive effort to pressure LDCs to keep in place the ‘no rollback ‘ provision that prevents LDCs from changing existing laws even if they were adopted during the colonial era) or new laws that have proven bad for development .”
Efforts to get EU’s response proved futile.
On November 2012, Haiti the then hair of LDCs at the Trips Council requites on behalf of all LDCs for the extension of the transition period until a member ceases to be a LDC. The activists say this request received overwhelming support from Norway, academics, representatives of the US Congress and CSOs from developed, developing and least developed countries.
They have however cited and criticized the EU and some developed nations for using informal negotiations to pressure LDCs into accepting an extension period between five to seven years yet a LDC member can make a ‘duly motivated request’ for a TRIPS extension.
The activists including Ambassador Nathan Irumba of Southern and Eastern Africa Trade and Negotiations Institute (SEATINI), Mulumba Moses, the director of the Centre for Health, Human Rights and Development (CEHURD) and the Aids Support Organisation (TASO) advocate, Joshua Wamboga told journalists that some developed countries are against the indefinite transition period request.
Mulumba said, “LDCs like Uganda are justified in seeking an unlimited extension for so long as they are classified because the suggested 5 -7 pears will not give us adequate time to overcome capacity constraints to develop a viable and competitive technological base.”
The TRIPs agreement requires that a country should implement laws that protect the rights such as patents, copyright which the activists say will have adverse effects on drugs. However, LDCs can incorporate flexibilities such as parallel importation in the laws. Uganda imports drugs of about 90% from India, a TRIPS compliant country, majority of which are generics.
India grants product patents but Uganda does not hence affected accessibility, affordability of cheap, lifesaving medicines
Irumba says LDCs like Uganda can circumvent patent rights only if provided in the law or else negotiate for an extension beyond 2016 or wait for the patent to expire. Mulumba said the transition period was given for LDCs to develop capacity to produce drugs but this has not happened yet Uganda’s population 35 million faces a bigger risk of stock outs.
“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, Wamboga, TASO team leader advocacy and networking said.
The next TRIPS Council meeting will be held on June 10-11th, a few weeks before the current TRIPS transition period July 1st deadline for other intellectual property rights except for pharmaceuticals in 2016.