The East African Community (EAC) partner states should ask the World Trade Organisation to unconditionally accord the Least Developed Group (LDC) an extension of the transition period to put up in place requirements for TRIPS, trade and economic experts have advised.
The World Trade Organisation (WTO), article 66.1 of the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) accorded LDCs members, Uganda inclusive a renewable ten-year exemption from most obligations under the TRIPS agreement. The grace period that expires in July 2013 is seen as so soon by experts thus the call for further extension.
The exemption was originally due to expire on December 31 2005 but was extended following a TRIPS council meeting held in June 2002.
According to Elizabeth Tamale the Assistant Commissioner in the Ministry of Trade, the LDCs were exempted from implementing the patents and test data obligations with regard to pharmaceutical products as required by the WTO. The deadline to enforce the patents with regard to pharmaceuticals products expires in January 2016.
"We were given 10 years but I must say that it is not easy to implement. Most EAC states still lack the technical base, coupled with lack of awareness regarding Intellectual Property rights. That is why we are seeking for further extension," said Tamale. Under TRIPS, governments must apprehend and punish people who breach IP and copyright laws, but Tamale says Ugandan police still lacks the capacity to implement this.
TRIPS is an international agreement administered by the WTO that sets nationals of other WTO minimum standards for many forms of Intellectual Property (IP) regulation as applied To nationals of other WTO members.
Tamale who was addressing stakeholders at the Open Society Foundation funded EAC meeting held at Metropole Hotel in Kampala on Tuesday noted that only 10 out of 40 LDCs had implemented the TRIPS.
"We need the laws in place and for the people to understand the laws before we can make any move. But we should also remember that the extension won't be forever. We need to unite as an EAC block," said Tamale.
She said without the extension, EAC states will immediately need to enact and or amend their intellectual property laws to become TRIPS complaint and would be under extreme pressure to do so. Apart from Kenya that is considered as developing country, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and Tanzania still have to put in place Intellectual property right laws so as to compete in WTO.
Bernard Mulengani the EALA legislator said failure by the TRIPS council to grant LDCs an extension would be disastrous. 'As MPs we need to put in place laws that will be implemented come 2016. We shouldn't expect another extension after 2016," he said.
Ambassador Nathan Irumba, the Southern and Eastern Africa Trade and Information Negotiation institute (SEATINI) executive director said the EAC still lacks the capacity to implement TRIPS. "We need to strictly enforce IPR (Intellectual Property Rights) so as to address counterfeit and it is not until you have acquired enough technology that you can design this," he said.
Dr. Kamamia Murichu, the Chairman Kenya Pharmaceutical Distributors said TRIPS agreement was signed to boost trade and encourage innovation but described as unfortunate that only Kenya out of the EAC partner states had Patent laws in place. "Patents are granted by the State, but if you lack the laws and somebody snatches your patent where will you report. We need uniformity regarding Intellectual Property right laws in East Africa," he said. Murichu noted that TRIPS contains requirements that nation's laws must meet for copyright such as rights for performers, broadcasters, producers, new plant varieties, and trademarks.
Denis Kibira a medicine advisor with HEPS Uganda however noted that LDCs don't need any further extension of TRIPS but suspension. "The TRIPS haven't really benefited us. What we need are anti-counterfeits laws, strong boarder measures, medicine seizures and media scares," he said. He pointed that EAC doesn't need an extension of TRIPS to put IP laws but rather technological transfers to set up pharmaceuticals for medicines.
"The EAC partner states need to increase import duties on generic drugs so as to reduce competition and protect local industries," he said.