Consensus-Seeking, Distrust, and Rhetorical Entrapment: The WTO Decision on Access to Medicines
33 Pages Posted: 18 Jul 2009 Last revised: 9 Feb 2014
Date Written: July 18, 2009
While the WTO secretariat, key delegations, several NGOs, and industry publicly present the August 30th 2003 WTO decision as an attempt to reconcile intellectual property with access to medicines, our research shows otherwise. We draw on qualitative analyses of 54 interviews and a lexicometric analysis of press releases to show that their enthusiastic public statements contrast deeply with their internal, cynical beliefs. Most of these actors not only consider the WTO decision to be fundamentally flawed but claim to have known this prior to its adoption. We argue that a procedural norm of consensus-seeking impeded traditional bargaining over this sensitive issue and that distrust among participants hindered truth-seeking deliberation. Caught between strategic and communicative actions, state and non-state actors found themselves trapped in their own rhetoric of reconciling intellectual property with access to medicines. They realized that the appearance of a solution, rather than a functional solution, provided the only realistic solution to a fruitless and publicly damaging continuation of debate. From a theoretical perspective, this case study sheds a new light on the gray zone between rational choice and constructivism, where both discourse and strategies matter. From an empirical perspective, it illustrates the risk of seeking consensus within international regimes when the procedural norm of consensus coexists with a high level of distrust.
Keywords: rhetorical action, access to medicines, trust, patent, habermas
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