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  • Patent reform 'essential' at WTO meeting

A UK-based development action group has warned the World Trade Organisation (WTO) that its forthcoming ministerial meeting in Doha, Qatar, will fail to open new trade negotiations with the developing world unless international patent rules are reviewed.

The warning comes in a report published on September 17 by ActionAid. Called ‘TRIPS on trial’ – a reference to the Trade Related Intellectual Property (TRIPS) agreement that forms part of the mandate of the WTO – the report calls for a review of existing patent rules on staple crops, an issue that ActionAid says will be on the agenda in Doha.

The report was launched immediately following a public meeting in Geneva at which speakers from around the world expressed growing concern over patent rules and their impact on the needs of developing countries.

Andries Steenkamp of South Africa, for example, complained of what he described as his tribe’s "exploitation“ by UK company Phytopharm, which has patented the active ingredient of the Hoodia cactus, a potential cure for obesity that is traditionally used by bushmen to suppress appetite.

The campaign is backed by British Member of the European Parliament Caroline Lucas, who is expected to urge other European politicians to add their support when she addresses them on 19 September.

Her statement coincides with the start of a three-day TRIPS council meeting, which includes discussions about access to medicines in developing countries. The meeting is one of several preparatory sessions leading up to the Doha summit in November.

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