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Tough choices?
by Wolfgang Sützl (AT)

The World Economic Forum at Davos brimmed over with moral rethoric and with calls for solidarity. Meanwhile, the implementation of TRIPS in India could bar millions from access to medication.

According to an article by Josef Joffe recently published by the German weekly "Die Zeit", anti-globalization protesters could save their trip to the World Economic Forum in Davos this year. The meeting, Joffe argued, was so much dominated by social topics and by moral rhetoric that its agenda seemed hardly any different from that of the Social Forum at Porto Alegre.

Poverty, injustices of globalization, climate change, spreading diseases - and a common responsibility for a better world. At a place where we previously suspected the arbiters of global capitalism to be staking out their claims, suddenly the only thing that seemed to matter was the welfare of humankind. The exclusive meeting, held in an atmosphere still reminiscent of Thomas Mann's „Magic Mountain“ novel, no longer seemed to serve the fine-tuning and coordination always required for the optimization of the status quo. Instead, the meeting seemed to be dedicated to the promotion of solidarity with the miserable and the suffering. Has the World Economic Forum turned into a World Morality Forum?

Each day, British Prime Minister Tony Blair calculated, 6000 people die of Aids in Africa, 3000 from Malaira. 34 % of Africans suffer from malnutrition, 50 % survive on less than a Dollar per day. Sitting between pop singer Bono and software tycoon Bill Gates, Blair declared that Africa would be a focus of the British G8 presidency. Problems, he stated, needed to be resolved in a spirit of partnership and solidarity.

According to Gates, the death of millions of people because of "insufficient research" is the "greatest scandal of our time". A few hours after Blairs speech a video of message of Jacques Chirac descended on a public already tenderized by powerful moral talk. In his "special message", Chirac proposed something unheard of: a small tax to be levied on international fincancial transactions or on air tickets. The takings could be used for combatting diseases such as Aids. In this way, Chirac figured, thirteen billion Dollars could be raised quite easily, without anybody being hurt. After all, he stated, the demands of "ethics, peace, security and economic interest converge".

A "silent tsunami"

Should Chirac's proposal materialize, then the sickness and poverty-ridden countries of the south won't have to think twice about how to spend the thenth of a thousandth that Chrica wants to siphon from the financiers' money pools. For the amendment of the Indian Patent Act, decreed at the end of last year, is likely to entail a massive rise in prices of life saving medication in the developing world, and to perpetuate the suffering of precisely those people whose well-being appears to be of such great concern to the WEF stars.

The third amendment to the Indian Patent Law could bar access to affordable medicine to millions of people, triggering off a "silent tsunami", a catastrophe whose deathly effects will come slowly and in a distributed fashion, unlikely to attract media attention.

The change became necessary because of India's WTO membership obliged the country to implement TRIPS before 1 January, 2005. The process patents, that is patents that are applied to production processes rather than products, now have to be replaced by product patents. Sure enough, the low cost at which Indian companies were able to produce anti-retroviral medication, to take just one example, were a result of that very particularity of India's patent law.
The principle „no profeteering from life and death“, which guided the implementation of the patent law by Indira Gandhi's government in the early 1980s, made India the world market leader in generic drugs. The cost of anti-retroviral therapy was reduced from 12,000 to 140 Dollars per year. But now this might soon be a thing of the past.

The "Data Lords" (V. Grassmuck) of the IP lobbies, supported by the US and European governments, have imposed their interests on a global scale through the TRIPS agreement, and they can now bring in the harvest: secured profits which – business and ethics converge! – will be invested into research and development. Bunkering vital knowledge in the high security strongboxes of privatized patent farms appears as an outright moral duty.

In actual fact, the "touch choices" that are said to rest on the shoulders of the G8 states have long been taken, and their consequences will materialize at times and places far away from the glamour of the WEF banquets. Yet there is something that the actors of the Davos spectacle have understood, and that is that protest can be effectively muffled by techniques of rethoric inclusion.

In the 1880, not far from the scene of the 2005 "world morality forum", Friedrich Nietzsche retired to the heights of the Swiss mountains in order to explore the abysms of European morality. He found a word for the kind of morality that is capable of inspiring fear through the good: "master morality".

The German version of this commentary appeared in the Vienna daily Der Standard on 3 February, 2005.

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