India, South Africa to make last-ditch attempts at WTO for TRIPS waiver

Amiti Sen New Delhi | Updated on February 05, 2021

Complications arising from IP rights protection could leave poor countries waiting till 2024 to achieve mass vaccination   -  istockphoto

Developing countries criticise EU’s export controls on Covid-19 vaccines

In a last-ditch attempt to get an agreement at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) on the proposed waiver of Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) obligations to fight the Covid-19 pandemic, India, South Africa and other co-sponsors are seeking to reach out to member countries individually for further discussions focussing on the contours, the scope and the time frame of the waiver, a Geneva-based official has said.

“Since some members, like the EU and the US, are continuing to oppose the waiver, the chair of the WTO TRIPS Council, in this week’s informal meeting, said that a call may be taken this month on whether the proposal should be continued to be considered,” the official told BusinessLine. India and South Africa had put forward a proposal at the WTO on October 2 suggesting that the WTO 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.

“The waiver proposal is to ensure that complications arising from IP rights protection do not delay response or lead to sub-optimal response from the countries around the world, affecting lives of all people. ..,” as per a response paper submitted earlier by India and South Africa at the WTO. The proposal got the support of a number of developing countries and Least Developed Countries, with Bolivia, Eswatini, Kenya, Egypt, Mozambique, Mongolia, Pakistan, Venezuela and Zimbabwe officially co-sponsoring it.

Many developed countries, such as Japan, Canada, the UK and Switzerland, reiterated at the meeting that they will not support the IP waiver. But they said that they shared the objective that theraupatics and vaccines need to be effectively manufactured and equitably distributed to fight Covid-19.

The EU’s recent decision of introducing export controls on Covid-19 vaccines was heavily criticised by many developing countries. Some alleged that it was getting clear that countries that were opposing TRIPS waiver were the ones colluding with pharmaceutical companies to ensure availability for themselves, the official pointed out.

Meeting on February 23

These developing countries also stressed that the current vaccine scarcity was due to the under-utilisation of the existing production capacity in poorer nations. “It was noted by some that while about 10.2 billion doses of vaccines may be required to break the chain of the pandemic spread, poor countries could have to wait till 2024 to achieve mass vaccination,” the official said.

The TRIPS chair said a formal TRIPS Council meeting will take place on February 23 to discuss a factual report on members’ preference for continued consideration of the waiver proposal. The draft report will be circulated to members to get comments on the suggested language in writing.

Published on February 05, 2021

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