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Poor countries win rules extension

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Lamy said the agreement gave poor countries flexibility in meeting WTO obligations.

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KEY POINTS ABOUT THE WTO

Membership: The World Trade Organization has 148 member nations, including China, which joined in December 2001. There are also 33 observer nations, including Russia, Ukraine, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Iraq.

Key players: European Union, United States, China, Cairns Group (agricultural producers), Japan, Brazil, India.

Doha: The Doha agenda takes its name from a ministerial meeting in the Qatari capital in November 2001, at which it was agreed to launch new trade negotiations.

Cancun: The September 2003 ministerial meeting at the Mexican resort of Cancun broke up without agreement on agriculture and the "Singapore issues", which deal with trade and investment facilitation and transparency in government procurement.

Hong Kong: Key issues for discussion at the Hong Kong ministerial meeting include agriculture, services, textiles and clothing, intellectual property rights, subsidies, rules of origin, customs valuation, anti-dumping, investment, sanitary measures and technical barriers.

Potential stumbling blocks: Agricultural reform, intellectual property rights, particularly for medicines.

(CNN) -- The world's poorest countries have been given an extension until 2013 to follow rules covering protection of trademarks, copyright and other intellectual property.

The World Trade Organization (WTO) agreed on Tuesday to extend the transition period for least-developed countries by seven and a half years to July 2013.

The transition period was to have expired on January 1, 2006, 11 years after an agreement known as TRIPS (trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights) came into force.

Meeting in Geneva, the WTO's TRIPS council agreed the world's poorest countries would not have to protect intellectual property rights until July 2013 unless they graduated beforehand from being in the "least-developed" category.

WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy said the agreement gave poor countries the flexibility they needed to meet their WTO obligations.

"This demonstrates what can be achieved in Hong Kong, where development is a central issue," he said.

The WTO will hold a ministerial meeting in Hong Kong from December 13-18.

There are 32 WTO member countries designated as least-developed by the United Nations.

They are primarily countries in Africa such as Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Angola, along with parts of Asia (Bangladesh, Cambodia, Myanmar, Nepal, Maldives) Central America and the Pacific.

Protection of intellectual property rights has become a key issue for the world's creative industries, including books, film and television, fashion, design and computer software.

Piracy of brand-name goods such as watches and handbags, and DVD knock-offs of new movies and computer games has become an irritant, for example, in trade relations between the United States and China.

The WTO said in a statement that the decision by its TRIPS council in Geneva would not affect the transition period for pharmaceutical patents. Least-developed countries will not have to protect these patents until 2016.

Poor countries are able to use a waiver on pharmaceutical patents that was agreed in August 2003, allowing them to import cheaper generic copies of blockbuster medicines from low-cost makers such as India, rather than more expensive brand-name drugs from U.S., European and Japanese makers.

But this waiver has yet to be written into the TRIPS agreement.

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