GENEVA, Dec 6 (Reuters) : The World Trade Organisation (WTO) strengthened Tuesday a two-year-old temporary deal on cheaper drugs for poor countries by agreeing to enshrine it in a treaty.
In 2003, the WTO said members could, under certain conditions, waive patents on medicines to let poorer nations import cheaper copied versions when facing health emergencies such as AIDS.
But negotiations proved complex on turning this waiver into a permanent right under the WTO's treaty on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).
"The agreement to amend the TRIPS provisions confirms once again that members are determined to ensure the WTO's trading system contributes to humanitarian and development goals," WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy said in a statement.
States had been rushing to end the wrangling over medicines before a key ministerial conference next week in Hong Kong to avoid any risk of complicating the already difficult task of making progress in the WTO's troubled free trade talks.
Several non-governmental organisations (NGOs) had been urging developing states not to rush into agreeing the wording of the formal amendment and to seek to negotiate better terms for drugs' imports.
Because it must be used on a country-by-country, drug-by-drug basis, the NGOs argue the system does not create the sort of large-scale market that gives the economies of scale needed to push down generic drugs' prices.
AP adds, Radical protesters smashing shop windows and club-wielding police often grab the spotlight at WTO summits, and -- with 10,000 demonstrators expected -- fears are that similar violence will bedevil next week's WTO meeting in Hong Kong.
It will be the first time this orderly global financial capital has had to deal with so many international protesters, though most of them will likely push for their diverse causes in more peaceful, creative ways, such as street theater or workshops.
They will be coming for the summit that runs next Tuesday through Sunday from around the world -- Pakistani fishermen, South Korean farmers and Argentine environmentalists.
Despite their diversity, the protesters have a unifying complaint: that WTO's goal of reducing trade barriers brings pain and ruin by threatening livelihoods, land and ways of life.
One group known for fierce battles with police and dramatic gestures to
highlight its cause, the Korean Peasants League, plans to send 1,400 farmers.
Last month, two league activists committed suicide by drinking herbicide to protest legislation opening South Korea's rice market, and one stabbed himself to death the WTO summit in Cancun, Mexico, in 2003.
The group is fighting to derail the WTO's aim to lower barriers for agricultural imports, which league officials say will flood the South Korean market with cheap rice and other food and bankrupt them.