Implications of WTO TRIPS Agreement in East Africa: a human rights perspective

The three east African countries, Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda are parties to the agreement establishing the World Trade Organisation (WTO). By signing the Agreement instituting the WTO, they are also bound to a number of treaties on trade in goods and services annexed thereto. One of these agreements is the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).

TRIPS establishes minimum standards of protecting intellectual property rights. These standards should be integrated into national legislations of all WTO members. Tanzania and Uganda being classified as Least Developed Countries have been allowed a transition period of 10 years to bring their intellectual property law completely into line with the rules of the TRIPS. Kenya had to domesticate TRIPS provisions before 1 January 2000.

While there is a growing consensus that protection of intellectual property rights is necessary for promotion of innovation by providing an incentive to invest in Research and Development (R&D). Yet, there is a real danger that measures provided in TRIPS, such as the extension of the protection of patents to both products and processes, could have serious implications for the protection of human rights including the right to everyone to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its applications, the right to health and food.

The study seeks to explore the human rights dimensions of TRIPS and the manner in which East African people may be affected. It concentrates on pharmaceutical patent protection and the new life saving drugs that should be available for treatment of HIV/AIDS in the region. It will identify relevant policy options on implementation of TRIPS at national levels.