Omicron threat: WTO meet pushed to March

Amiti Sen | | Updated on: Nov 30, 2021
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TRIPS Council trying to expedite decision on India-South Africa IP waiver suggestion

The WTO has decided to push the 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) to the first week of March 2022, but as the threat from Omicron looms, it is keeping the pressure up on members to expedite an agreement on an appropriate response to the pandemic.

“...we believe that it is incumbent on the membership, in the midst of a pandemic, to quickly converge on a WTO Response to the Pandemic, including finding a sensible solution to its intellectual property aspect,” the WTO noted in a letter to all delegations on Monday, informing them of the likelihood of the MC12 taking place in the first week of March.

The letter brings out the renewed urgency with which the WTO is now trying to arrive at a solution on the intellectual property challenge inhibiting smooth flow of Covid vaccines and medication throughout the world. It was only last week that many civil society organisations pointed out in a letter to the WTO DG that the IP relaxation issued had got sidelined in a draft text floated at the WTO on pandemic response as it brought in other issues such as market access.

A WTO TRIPS Council meeting took place on Monday, where it was decided to expedite consultations on the India-South Africa waiver proposal as well as an alternative proposal made by the European Union.

‘Still faces opposition’

“The India-South Africa proposal for a temporary waiver of TRIPS provision on vaccines and medical products has been majorly supported by developing nations, including African countries, and LDCs.

“But it still faces opposition from major developed countries. The EU’s alternative proposal related to compulsory licensing is also under examination. Hopefully, there will be more motivation now to move towards a solution,” a trade official told BusinessLine.

Meanwhile, India has offered to supply Covid vaccines to several African countries such as Malawi, Ethiopia, Zambia, Mozambique, Guinea, Lesotho and Botswana, through the Covax facility or bilaterally.Ban on flights

The MC12, initially scheduled between November 30 and December 3 in Geneva, was postponed after the Switzerland government banned direct flights from South Africa and the surrounding region last week while imposing quarantine restrictions on travel from some other countries, including Hong Kong and Belgium.

Omicron, which is likely to be much more contagious than the earlier variants, was first identified in South Africa and other countries in the region. Subsequently, the variant has been detected in several countries across Europe, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Israel.

“The postponement... should not be a reason for us not to roll up our sleeves. To the contrary, the current momentum should be sustained and harvested; we, as ministers in charge of trade, need to show our solidarity and full support to the WTO at this critical moment,” the letter added.

Published on November 30, 2021

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