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US to Drop Limits on Drug Imports by Poor Countries - 2003-06-22

The United States has agreed to ease restrictions that limit the ability of poorer nations to import patented drugs used to treat life-threatening diseases.

A U.S. official told reporters today at the close of World Trade Organization (WTO) talks in Egypt that the United States will not limit the kinds of drugs available to developing nations to a list of specific diseases.

The official, who asked not to be named, said that approach has proven to be unworkable for a variety of reasons.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick told trade ministers Saturday the United States is working with top western drug firms to make life-saving medicines for AIDS and malaria available to developing nations.

Mr. Zoellick said he hopes to resolve the standoff before the next round of WTO talks in Cancun, Mexico in September. The issue is key to many developing countries, who have said they will not accept other WTO agreements until the issue is settled.

WTO rules allow countries facing public health crises to override patents and order their drugs from cheaper, generic suppliers.

The United States has tried to limit developing countries' access to needed drugs, fearing that countries like Brazil and India would flood poor countries with generic drugs for all types of conditions and take markets from U.S. drug companies.

Meanwhile in agriculture, Mr. Zoellick said that progress in liberalizing international trade depended on the European Union, which doles out about $50 billion a year in farm subsidies.

Many countries complain that the subsidies prevent their farmers from competing on the international market.

The 15 E.U. member states are scheduled to resume talks on reforming their Common Agriculture Policy this coming week.

Twenty-nine WTO member countries attended the informal global trade talks in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt.