India-South Africa IPR waiver proposal gets support of about 90 WTO members

Amiti Sen New Delhi | Updated on February 24, 2021

TRIPS council unlikely to suspend discussion but ask General Council for more time

India and South Africa’s proposal for temporary waiver of intellectual property rights provisions during the Covid-19 period has now got the support of majority of WTO members, as evident at the recent TRIPS Council meeting. This has ensured that the proposal will not be set aside and that more efforts are made to move towards a consensus on the matter.

“There are about 90 members now supporting the India-South Africa TRIPS (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) waiver proposal. There are 57 co-sponsors, and the proposal is supported from the floor by several delegations including Jamaica on behalf of the ACP Group (African, Caribbean and Pacific Group - 62 members), Afghanistan, Argentina, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Honduras, Cuba, Nepal, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Indonesia, Tunisia, Mali and Mauritius,” a Geneva-based official told BusinessLine.

Several developed countries and some developing nations such as China, Colombia and Chile, however, continue to oppose it, and sought more evidence-based discussions at the meeting earlier this week.

“It is now more or less decided that at the General Council meeting on March 1-2, the TRIPS Council will seek more time to continue its consideration of the waiver request and report back some time later,” the official said.

As per the TRIPS waiver proposal put forward on October 2 2020, the WTO should allow all member countries to choose to neither grant nor enforce patents and other intellectual property- (IP) related to Covid-19 drugs, vaccines and medical products for the duration of the pandemic.

Developed regions including the EU, the US, Switzerland, Norway, Japan, Australia and the UK have opposed the proposal on the grounds that it could be counterproductive, and said that countries were on their own collaborating on medications and vaccines.

Philanthropy vs equality

The South African delegate shared data to demonstrate the skewed distribution of Covid-19 vaccines amongst countries. As per the data, the US, the UK and the EU accounted for about 30 per cent of over 200 million vaccines that have been administered globally. It has been reported that just 10 countries have administered 75 per cent of all Covid-19 vaccines while over 100 countries have not received a single dose, the delegate pointed out. “The problem with philanthropy is that it cannot buy equality,” the South African delegate stressed.

The Indian delegate pointed out that the members who dismissed their arguments about the possibility of shortages of vaccines, therapeutics and other equipment were themselves facing shortages in their jurisdictions although they had negotiated advanced purchase agreements.

India has asked developed country governments to explain why they intervened to suspend air transport and restrict mobility to prevent the spread of the virus but were so eager to protect the commercial interests of only a few companies in the pharmaceuticals sector.

The co-sponsors of the India-South Africa proposal include Kenya, Eswatini, Mozambique, Pakistan, Bolivia, Venezuela, Mongolia, Zimbabwe, Egypt, the African Group and the LDC (least-developed countries) group.

Published on February 24, 2021

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