Covid-19: WTO to discuss possible easing of trade in medical goods

Amiti Sen New Delhi | Updated on May 24, 2020

Piyush Goyal, Commerce Minister

New Delhi to push for access to essential medicines, vaccines at the WTO meet on June 8

The crucial issue of easing trade in medical goods in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, raised by India at the recent meeting of Trade Ministers’ from G-20 nations, will be taken up at the World Trade Organizsation’s (WTO) Market Access Committee meeting early next month.

“Recently an informal meeting was held on the issue of trade in medical goods at the WTO as several members, including India, have pointed to the need of easier flow of medicines, vaccines and medical devices to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic. It was mainly a preparation for the formal meeting of the Market Access Committee on June 8,” a person close to the development told BusinessLine.

At the informal meet, the Secretariat gave a presentation on the topic of trade in medical goods, but the views of members on the matter will be discussed only at the June 8 meet, the official added.

Commerce & Industry Minister Piyush Goyal called upon the G-20 nations to ensure access to essential medicines, treatments and vaccines at affordable prices at a recent virtual meeting of Trade Ministers’ from member countries.

Goyal argued in favour of making use of flexibilities in the Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) Agreement that allows a member country to issue compulsory licences to allow local manufacturers to produce generic versions of life-saving patented medicines.

He also urged G-20 nations to agree to provide diagnostic and protective equipment, and healthcare professionals across borders where they are most needed.

“While there are a large number of developing and least developed countries in favour of more liberal trade in medical goods, there are many developed countries that are home to pharmaceutical giants, not willing to be too flexible,” the official said.

New Delhi is likely to continue its push for easier flow of medical goods at the Market Access Committee meeting, the official added.

Essential medicines

So far, countries like India that are at the top in the production of cheap and high quality generics, have shown the way by liberally supplying the world with essential medicines such as paracetamol and hydroxychloroquine to fight the virus.

“Now that efforts are on to develop effective vaccines for Covid-19 worldwide, there is a pressing need for greater cooperation amongst various countries. Countries need to be liberal and jointly share the benefits of the research,” the official said.

At the WTO’s General Council meeting on Covid-19 on May 15, India again raised the issue of TRIPs flexibilities and stressed on the importance of coordinating the global response in a way that avoids unnecessary disruption in the flow of vital medical supplies, food and other goods and services across borders.

Published on May 24, 2020

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