Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have this opportunity to speak to this bill, and I will take this opportunity to thank the hon. member for Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques not only for allowing me to share his time and to speak to this bill, but also for his huge investment in this file, particularly in committee with the other members of the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology, whose efforts I also acknowledge and appreciate.
As my colleague for Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques has said, this is an extremely important bill, one that reflects an international consensus. This bill, it must be pointed out, is the outcome of an international examination of the issue of development. It became clear that it was important to enable the developing countries to become integrated with the international trade system.
Consequently, in November 2001, at the end of the Doha ministers' meeting, the World Trade Organization signed a declaration initiating a new round of negotiations aimed at eventually making substantial improvements for developing countries, and as a result, that round came to be known as the Doha round for development.
At that time, a declaration was signed on the possibility of reaching an agreement on TRIPS, which may sound a bit esoteric at first, but is just the acronym for trade related aspects of intellectual property rights.
Here the reference is more specifically to drugs that might be supplied by generic drug companies to developing countries greatly in need of them and lacking the resources and infrastructures to produce their own drugs for use against serious pandemics or epidemics. A certain number of diseases have been identified in connection with which we should allow suspension of patents so that generic companies can sell drugs to these countries that need them so badly.
This wishful thinking, which is all it was initially, has finally been translated into concrete action. On August 30, 2003, in response to pressure from developing countries and certain NGOs, the WTO finally reached an agreement on these famous TRIPS I just mentioned.
The bill currently before us, as I was saying, stems from the process that began in November 2001 at the World Trade Organization. On the former prime minister's initiative, Canada very quickly decided to implement the provisions of the TRIPS agreement and, last fall, somewhat hastily introduced a bill to ensure Canada's compliance with the WTO decision.
I say somewhat hastily since the bill came to us with major flaws, which the minister herself acknowledged when the bill was being introduced. After prorogation, the bill came back to us under a different number. It became Bill C-9 and had a slightly different format. Nonetheless, it was still flawed and needed to be amended.
After the hearings—once again, I wish to acknowledge the excellent work by the members of the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology on this bill—it was decided that a number of amendments would be made.
The concept of first right of refusal was eliminated and replaced with a new mechanism that would still offer some protection to the patent holders, the pharmaceutical research companies. They invest a great deal of money in developing new drugs and deserve some protection, regardless of the commendable objectives with respect to the fight against certain illnesses in developing countries. A new mechanism was found that seemed more acceptable, or less unacceptable, for all parties concerned in order to protect innovative pharmaceutical firms.
Also, as the hon. member for Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques mentioned, a number of drugs were added to the existing WTO list. Some drugs were not on the WTO list for technical reasons. Others are not on the WTO list, but are patented in Canada and can help the fight against illnesses that have been identified as pandemics in developing countries.
We also added a certain number of countries to the list. The original list was quite short. We expanded the list so that more developing countries, not having the facilities, equipment or resources to produce these drugs, could still have access to them. We also changed the royalty rates, as requested by the industries concerned, and we adopted a new, clearer definition of who will be eligible to purchase drugs under the bill.
Those, in short, are the amendments and modifications made to the bill thanks to the committee's work. Yesterday, at the report stage, other substantial improvements were made to the bill.
That being said, we must still recognize that it is a rather innovative piece of legislation. Canada is the first country to implement the WTO's TRIPS agreement. Norway is also engaged in the process, but it is clear we are exploring relatively virgin territory. Thus, we are likely to encounter some difficulties along the way as we implement this legislation. Eventually, we will have to make some improvements.
The bill includes the provision that there will be an mandatory review after three years. This will enable us to make whatever amendments and modifications may be necessary. That does not mean that, meanwhile, if very obvious problems were to arise, we could not make the necessary changes to the legislation.
I would like to conclude by saying that it is important to act on this aspect of the problem, by making it possible for developing countries to have access to the drugs they need to deal with a number of epidemics and pandemics; of course it is. However, it is just as important to work upstream as downstream. It would be a totally futile endeavour, a complete waste of time, if we were to provide these drugs, as my colleague has said, and then find them being stored on the docks of certain developing countries.
We have to make sure that the countries that will benefit from these drugs have a distribution infrastructure so that the drugs can reach the most isolated regions. The people who need the drugs have to be able to access them. As developed and industrialized countries, we will have to help the developing countries put an efficient distribution network in place. We will also have to ensure medical support so that people take their drugs properly. It is one thing to have the little bottle of pills at home, but quite another to take the required dose at regular intervals. AIDS medication, for example, involves a very strict regimen, which requires a great deal of discipline.
I will conclude by urging the government to go beyond this bill, which has little impact on us as a society, and help developing countries by substantially increasing aid for development.