WTO may hold TRIPS meet early next year for further discussion on waiver proposal

Amiti Sen New Delhi | Updated on December 14, 2020

Norway asks India-South Africa if they were considering a revised proposal as consensus was eluding the original one

To ensure that India-South Africa’s proposal for a temporary waiver of TRIPS (Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights) obligations to fight the Covid-19 pandemic does not get buried without further discussions, World Trade Organization (WTO) members are likely to consider an early meeting of the TRIPS Council in January or early-February, instead of sticking to the scheduled mid-March slot, according to a Geneva-based official.

“As countries could not arrive at a decision on the waiver proposal at the TRIPS Council meeting on December 10 because of strong opposition by some developed nations, the chair proposed that members should consider holding the next formal meeting, which is scheduled on March 10-11 2021, in January or early February. This would allow further consideration of the waiver request in the more immediate future,” a Geneva-based official said.

Support for the India-South Africa proposal, officially placed before the TRIPS council on October 2, has been growing with more developing countries and LDCs putting their weight behind it, but strong opposition from members such as the EU and the US, and call for alternatives by Canada, Australia, Chile and Mexico resulted in a lack of consensus on the matter on December 10.

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The WTO General Council (one of the top decision-making bodies of the body) later this week is likely to take a decision on the future of the India-South Africa proposal. The proposal, co-sponsored by the delegations of Kenya, Eswatini, Pakistan, Mozambique, and Bolivia, suggests a waiver on the implementation, application and enforcement of certain provisions of the TRIPS Agreement in relation to prevention, containment or treatment of Covid-19, in order to avoid barriers to the timely access to affordable medical products including vaccines and medicines.

“We certainly hope that more discussions on the waiver take place soon as many developing and poor countries are facing issues in accessing medicines and equipment required to fight the pandemic due to IP laws. If a decision gets delayed indefinitely, it may not serve the desired purpose at all,” an official in New Delhi said.

Norway asked India and South Africa if a revised proposal was in the offing, as the chances of reaching a consensus on the original proposal looked difficult, the Geneva official said.

In its intervention at the last TRIPS Council meeting, India refuted the claim made by the US and the EU that the existing IPR system had enough provisions to ensure that access to vaccines and medical products is fast and equitable. It pointed out that the functionality of the TRIPS flexibilities was not smooth for many countries, as under it, licences must be issue for generic production of patented medicines on a case-by-case and country-by-country basis.

South Africa’s representative pointed out that as more than 90 per cent of all future production of vaccine candidates are being reserved for rich developed countries, the others were left wondering when equitable and timely access will become a reality.

ALSO READ: Covid vaccine: TRIPs waiver patently needed

Published on December 14, 2020

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