In a letter to trade ministers of the World Trade Organisation, European Union trade commissioner, Pascal Lamy, proposed yesterday that taking advice from the WHO would be one way to solve a long standing international trade dispute about access by developing countries to affordable medicine.

At issue is the question of whether poor countries will be able legally to import cheap, generic copies of drugs from non-patent holders when a WTO agreement — Trade Related Aspects of International Property — comes into full force in 2005. For several years trade officials have struggled to reach an agreement about what will happen then. The most recent — failed — attempt was last December when the US was willing to agree to such imports only if the generics related to a restricted list of diseases, including HIV/AIDS, malaria and TB, but excluding large classes of drugs for other conditions such as...

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