India presses for waiver of TRIPS proposal at WTO

Amiti Sen New Delhi | Updated on March 02, 2021

A file photo of a flight carrying Covishield vaccine at Male in January. India has supplied 36.37 million vaccine doses to 35 countries   -  -

Warns that rich economies will continue to be at risk if infection keeps spreading

India has made a fresh pitch for “true vaccine internationalism” at the WTO and warned developed nations that are blocking the proposal for a temporary waiver of intellectual property obligations that even if they vaccinated all their citizens, they will remain at risk of a sluggish recovery if infection continues to spread in emerging markets.

“If the virus is allowed to spread like wildfire in the global South, it will mutate again and again and this can prolong the pandemic significantly, enabling the virus to come back to plague the global North,” said Brajendra Navnit, India’s Permanent Representative to the World Trade Organization, at the General Council meeting on Monday, and called for an immediate start of text-based negotiations to work out the modalities for the waiver.

Status report

The WTO General Council, on Monday, received a status report from the Trips (Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights) council on the proposal made by India and South Africa on October 2, 2020, for a temporary waiver from certain provisions of the Trips agreement for the prevention, containment and treatment of Covid-19.

While as many as 57 members, mostly developing countries and LDCs, have co-sponsored the waiver proposal, many more have supported it on the floor but developed members such as the US, the EU, Switzerland and Japan, continue to oppose it.

The Indian representative pointed out that there were contradictions in the arguments forwarded by many developed countries that oppose the waiver. On one hand, they argued that the waiver, if granted, will not result in augmenting manufacturing capacities and on the other, they say that the waiver will impact the commercial interests of existing IP holders as lot of manufacturing could come into play without agreement with the IP holders.

“... if manufacturing is going to increase significantly and thereby impact commercial interests of IP right holders, then are we not agreeing that final objective in the present scenario is to increase manufacturing,” he said.

$9.2 trillion loss

A recent study estimated that the global economy stands to lose as much as $9.2 trillion if the international community fails to ensure developing economy access to the Covid-19 vaccines as recovery in advanced economies will remain at risk if infection continues to spread in emerging markets, the representative pointed out.

Building the case for a waiver, Navnit added that the UN Secretary General recently noted that the progress on vaccinations has been wildly uneven and unfair, and that more than 130 countries have not received a single dose.

“We urge the members to reach consensus on the waiver proposal to ramp up production for the cause of truly ensuring fair, equitable and affordable access to Covid-19 products in a timely manner. We sincerely hope that the proposal will reach a common landing zone and not suffer the repeated blocking of text based negotiations,” he said.

The Trips Council is now likely to carry on with discussions on the waiver and the proponents, South Africa and India, will try to gain more support for starting negotiations with the objective of putting the waiver in place as soon as possible.

On its part, India has already supplied 36.37 million vaccine doses to 35 countries and the UN Health workers, as on 1 March, 2021 under its ‘Vaccine Maitri’ initiative. 39 more countries will be supplied in the coming days.

Published on March 02, 2021

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