Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Missing the WTO's Doha boat

Missing the WTO's Doha boat

Missing the WTO's Doha boat

In the process of passing its first patent law, Cambodia has disregarded a World

Trade Organization declaration that would ensure it access to new, cheap generic

drugs for the next 14 years.

The Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health, signed at the WTO's Ministerial

Conference in Doha, November 14, allows least-developed countries (LDCs) such as

Cambodia to exclude pharmaceuticals from local patent laws until 2016.

This means that - unlike other WTO member countries - LDCs in the organization

may use new copy-cat drugs created by coun-tries that do not protect patents.

Generic drugs are already widely used in Cambodia and have proved invaluable in treating

AIDS patients. In a new pilot project, Médecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) is treating

HIV/AIDs patients with generic antiretroviral (ARV) drugs for $350 per patient per

year. By comparison the cost of a brand-name ARV cocktail in May, 2000 was $10,400.

MSF's legal consultant seconded to the Ministry of Health, Victor van Spengler, worked

on the draft of Cambodia's first patent law. He said it was approved by the Council

of Ministers prior to the WTO declaration and therefore did include pharmaceuticals.

To ensure the country gained the benefit from the WTO's ruling, said van Spengler,

the government simply needed to send an amendment to the National Assembly.

However, the deputy director of the intellectual property department at the Ministry

of Commerce, Var Rothsan, said the draft patent law had already been sent to the

National Assembly and there was no need to make an amendment.

"We hope the patent law will be passed by the National Assembly within the first

quarter of this year," he said. "The draft law is sufficient for Cambodia.

There's no need to exclude pharmaceuticals."

He said it was important that the patent law complied with the TRIPS agreement (trade-related

aspects of intellectual property rights), which sets out minimum standards for all

WTO members. While TRIPS includes pharmaceuticals, the recent declaration specifically

released LDC countries from some obligations.

"We recognize the gravity of the public health problems afflicting many developing

and least-developed countries, especially those resulting from HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis

and other epidemics," the declaration stated.

Cham Prasidh, Minister of Commerce and the man in charge of Cambodia's bid to join

the WTO, said he was unaware of the declaration made at Doha. However, he emphasized

the importance that the country's laws were consistent with WTO standards.

"There is time to make changes but it needs to come from the Ministry of Industry

[which drafted the patent law]," he said.

However sources in the Ministry of Industry said that as the patent law was awaiting

approval from the government, making changes was out of their hands.

MSF's van Spengler said that the draft patent law had public health safeguards, which

meant the government could over-ride patent protection under certain circumstances.

"Governments can make medicine when it's in the public interest - it is one

of the so-called safeguards, to make patented medicines or give the license [to a

third party]," he said. "They can decide if the public health interest

is more important than the interests of the patent owner."

However, van Spengler said, having the provision was one thing, but actually being

able to navigate the legal minefield was another.

"This facility in law is very nice, but how can they use it?" he asked,

referring to the overstretched resources of the Ministry of Health (MoH). Given the

public health problems in the country, said van Spengler, the WTO declaration was

"a blessing for Cambodia," as it would considerably simplify matters.

"This will give Cambodia 15 years to fine tune their patent law while the MoH

will have time to build its capacity and infrastructure so it can successfully exploit

future ministerial regulations pertaining to the patent law," he said.

MSF country head, Catherine Quillet, said generic production had been helpful in

lowering prices of ARVs, but she was concerned that Cambodia could legislate itself

out of access to these cheaper generic drugs.

MOST VIEWED

  • Restrictions re-imposed in capital as Covid cases surge

    Amid the ongoing community outbreak of Covid-19, which has shown no sign of subsiding with 750 infections and 10 deaths reported on June 2 alone, the Phnom Penh Municipal Administration has decided to re-impose the suspension of all occupations and business activities deemed as posing high risk of

  • Phnom Penh-Sihanoukville expressway 51% complete

    The construction of the nearly $2 billion Phnom Penh-Sihanoukville Expressway is 51.35 per cent complete and is expected to be finished in 2023, according to Ministry of Public Works and Transport secretary of state Vasim Sorya. Invested in by Cambodian PPSHV Expressway Co Ltd, the first expressway in

  • With herd immunity likely in 2022, is Cambodia ready to reopen for tourism?

    The government aims to inoculate 80 per cent of the target population by June next year, giving it a head start among regional peers to reboot the sector but first, it has to do a few things to up its game A sign on a glass

  • First 7-Eleven store to open mid-June, ambassador says

    Thai retail conglomerate CP All Pcl will open Cambodia’s first 7-Eleven convenience store in mid-June, Cambodian ambassador to Thailand Ouk Sorphorn told The Post on June 1. The Bangkok-listed 7-Eleven franchise operator, the retail arm of Charoen Pokphand Group Co Ltd, granted CP All (Cambodia)

  • US wants 'full access' to Ream Naval Base

    On June 11, the US embassy's Defense Attaché Colonel Marcus M Ferrara visited Ream Nava Base in coordination with Cambodian officials following the recent approval of Prime minister Hun Sen to allay the concerns on Chinese military presence at the base as raised by US Deputy

  • US embassy guard gets Covid despite two doses of Pfizer jab

    The Covid-19 tracking commission on June 4 said a security guard at the US embassy in Phnom Penh had contracted the novel coronavirus, despite having received a second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech shot two weeks ago. Embassy spokesperson Chad Roedemeier confirmed the SARS-CoV-2 infection to The