The Legislative Yuan approved the first reading of an amendment to a WTO agreement yesterday, which will allow Taiwanese pharmaceutical companies to make cheaper generic drugs for underdeveloped countries to combat fatal diseases such as HIV/AIDS, malaria and bird flu.
The WTO initiative, called Protocol Amending the Agreement on Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), will make it easier for poorer countries to import cheaper generic drugs made under compulsory licensing if they are unable to manufacture the medicines themselves.
The amendment to TRIPS Article 31 regarding compulsory licensing, which was approved by WTO member states in August 2005, authorizes pharmaceutical companies in WTO countries, if requested, to manufacture and export cheaper generic drugs to least developed countries, without having to pay the patent holders.
“Following the Cabinet’s approval of this amendment last month, the final approval from lawmakers will allow the government to report Taiwan’s TRIPS acceptance to the WTO Secretariat through Taiwan’s mission to WTO in Geneva,” said Wang Mei-hua (王美花), director-general of the Ministry of Economic Affairs’ Intellectual Property Office (IPO).
The WTO’s General Council has asked all member nations to obtain approval from their own lawmakers and to notify it no later than Dec. 31 next year. Once two-thirds of members have formally accepted it, the amendment will take effect in those states.
The IPO head said that final approval of the amendment could be settled in about two months.
“At present, 15 of the 151 WTO member states have notified the WTO of their acceptance, including the US, the EU, Japan, China, Australia and South Korea,” she said.
Wang said Taiwan will also have to revise its patent regulations to accommodate the new TRIPS regulations.
“The bureau has drafted a revision of the patent statute, which will also be reviewed by the legislature at some point,” she said.
Wang said that once the legal grounds for the amendment are established, Taiwan would be able to contribute more to the international community, particularly to poor countries that have little or no technological or financial ability to offer advanced medical treatment.
“With its advanced pharmaceutical ability, Taiwan could offer assistance especially to its 23 diplomatic alliances, most of which are underdeveloped countries,” she said.