TRIPS waiver: WTO to decide on India-South Africa proposal next month

Amiti Sen New Delhi | Updated on November 22, 2020

The World Trade Organisation (WTO) is likely to take a decision next month on the India-South Africa proposal for the temporary waiver of global intellectual property obligations to fight the pandemic. But developed members such as the EU, the US and Canada are continuing to oppose the proposal, according to a Geneva-based official.

Pharma import-export

At a recent informal meeting of the WTO’s TRIPS (Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights) council convened to discuss the waiver, India and South Africa pointed out that it was necessary as many countries were not in a position to utilise the TRIPS flexibilitiesfor importing and exporting pharmaceuticals.

“A large number of developing countries came out in support of the proposal, but developed nationsand some developing ones like Brazilmaintained that waivers were not needed. The chair of the TRIPS council will now get in touch with delegations bilaterally and in groups to see what a possible solution could be,” the official said.

India and South Africa’s proposal, submitted to the TRIPS Council on October 2, advocates a temporary waiver on application of some provisions of the TRIPS agreement. The waiver is aimed at prevention, containment and treatment of Covid-19 by removing barriers for accessing affordable medical products, including vaccines and medicines.

Legal difficulties

The countries argued that many members, especially developing countries, face institutional and legal difficulties when using TRIPS flexibilities. The compulsory licensing mechanism, which also allowed countries with insufficient manufacturing capabilities to source generic versions of patented medicines from third-country producers during times of crisis, was difficult for many to use, they said. All WTO members should be united in putting the lives of people before everything else, the countries added.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, too, had made a pitch for acceptance and backing of the India-South Africa TRIPS waiver proposal at the recent BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) summit attended by the heads of states of all five nations.

Developed members such as the US, the EU, Japan, Canada and Switzerland argued at the TRIPS council informal meeting that the suspension of IPRs was unnecessary even for a short time. They said that it would undermine put together by countries so far to collaborate the fight the pandemic, the official said.

The proposal by India and South Africa is now co-sponsored by Kenya, Eswatini, Mozambique and Pakistan – these countries have also pushed for its acceptance. Sri Lanka, Tunisia, Indonesia, Egypt, Cuba, Tanzania (on behalf of the African Group), Venezuela, Nigeria, Bangladesh also supported the proponents, the official said.

There was also support from members such as China, Ukraine, Chile, Ecuador, Mexico, Turkey and El Salvador, and have sought clarifications on the implementation process and the legal impact of the waiver.

“The chair announced that a formal TRIPS council meet will take place on December 10 to adopt a report on the matter that could be submitted to the WTO’s TRIPS council. She also said she would meet various members bilaterally and in groups to understand what the final agreement would be on,” the official said.

Published on November 22, 2020

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