Briefing Note: No EU WTO Challenge on Thai Compulsory Licenses

Briefing Note: EU confirms the legality of Thai generic medicines policy; denies threatening WTO litigation
Sarah Rimmington

Reports have recently appeared in the Thai and international media that the European Union is planning to file a case against Thailand at the World Trade Organization (WTO) because of the issuance of seven compulsory licenses — which authorize the use of generic copies of patented medicines — for important treatments for HIV/AIDS, heart disease and cancer.[1] French pharmaceutical company Sanofi-Aventis and Swiss companies Novartis AG and Roche hold five of the seven patents licensed by the Thais.

European Union representatives say these allegations are untrue.
Asked if the EU was considering a WTO challenge, an EU official stated that the European Union has made never threatened a challenge, does not plan a challenge, and acknowledges that Thailand’s actions are WTO-compliant.

The official issued the following comment:

“The Commission has been in constant contact with the Thai authorities and has stressed that compulsory licensing, while allowed by the WTO rules, should be regarded as a last resort option and that negotiations and collaboration with pharmaceutical companies should be sought. The EU is hoping that this will be the line of the new Government. However, it is clear that the Commission has never threatened WTO litigation on compulsory licensing for medicines.”

Interested reporters can contact the EU Spokesperson’s Service in Brussels. See here.

Similar reports surfaced in February that the United States was on the verge of filing an action against Thailand at the WTO because of the compulsory licenses. On February 29, Inside U.S. Trade reported that the Office of the United States Trades Representative denied that a case against Thailand was being considered.[2]

[1] See, for example, “EU to Ask WTO to Rule on Thailand’s Drug Licensing,” The Nation (Bangkok), March 10, 2008, and “Thailand to maintain patent override policy,” PharmaTimes, March 11, 2008.

[2] “USTR Not Preparing Case Against Thailand For Compulsory Licenses,” Inside U.S. Trade, February 29, 2008.