On 30 August 2003, WTO Members agreed on a procedure for poor countries to import generic versions of patented medicines that they are unable to produce themselves. On 19 July 2007, almost four years later, Rwanda became the first country to notify the global trade body that it intends to use this procedure. Following this notification, on 19 September 2007, the Canadian patent authorities issued the first compulsory licence to Apotex, a large generic pharmaceutical company, to manufacture and deliver 260,000 packs of Apo-TriAvir to Rwandan health authorities. This would be enough to treat 21,000 AIDS patients for a year.

Under the WTO Agreement on Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), governments can issue “compulsory licences” – effectively suspending patents – to allow the generic production of essentialmedicines without the patent holder’s consent. Nevertheless, TRIPS obliges that drugs produced in this way should be “predominantly” for the domesticmarket, which affords scant benefit to countries that have little or no pharmaceutical manufacturing capacity. In order to solve this problem, countries reached an agreement in August 2003 on how to dispense with the domestic consumption requirement to permit poor countries to import drugs manufactured under compulsory licence elsewhere