Cheap drugs, free agricultural trade for poor countries ‘moral imperative’ - Annan

5 September 2003

Declaring that upcoming world trade talks can make the difference between life and death for millions of people, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan is urging that poor countries be given access to cheap generic drugs as “a moral imperative” and that rich countries end agricultural trade subsidies “for humanity’s sake.”

The World Trade Organization (WTO) talks in Cancun, Mexico, beginning next week, will decide whether poor countries “will or will not, at last, be given a real chance to trade their way out of poverty,” Mr. Annan said in a video message in support of the “Big Noise” campaign by the non-governmental organization (NGO) Oxfam.

“The decisions they take there can make the difference between poverty and starvation – perhaps even between life and death – for millions of people in poor countries,” he declared.

Mr. Annan emphasized two crucial issues – access to cheap generic drugs for poor countries, on which an outline agreement was recently reached, and trade in agricultural products.

“We must now ensure that developing countries are given the support they need to make use of the mechanisms that have been agreed, so that drugs reach the millions who are suffering and dying,” he said, referring to the agreement that would allow developing countries unable to produce generic versions of patented drugs to import them from countries that can. “This is a moral imperative.”

Noting that poor countries are under pressure from rich countries to liberalize their markets, yet find that many of their products are excluded from rich countries’ markets by protective tariffs and quotas, Mr. Annan said: “That is not fair. Even less fair is the competition they face from heavily subsidized producers in those same rich countries. These subsidies push prices down, driving the farmers in poor countries out of business.

“Far from being empowered, the fisherman in Viet Nam, the cotton-grower in Burkina Faso, and the indigenous cultivator of medicinal herbs in Brazil are being held down. Many of the poorest countries lose more through missed trading opportunities than they receive in aid or debt relief,” he added.

“For humanity’s sake, these subsidies must be phased out, as fast as possible,” he declared. “I congratulate all of you who are working to draw attention to this gross injustice. I am glad to join my voice to your ‘Big Noise’.”


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