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India, S Africa face EU opposition

Our Bureau. New Delhi | Updated on June 18, 2021

Proposal to limit export restrictions, increasing production better options: EU

 

Action has begun at the WTO for holding text-based negotiations on India-South Africa’s proposal for a temporary waiver of intellectual property (IP) provisions for Covid-19 related vaccines and medical products. However, it is facing strong opposition from the EU, which has indicated that its own suggestion of limiting export restrictions and supporting production is a better alternative to address supply concerns.

At the TRIPS Council meeting on Thursday, India and South Africa insisted that the two proposals should be discussed separately on their own merit, a Geneva-based official told BusinessLine.

“The TRIPS council chair opted for two open-ended sessions this month; one on June 30 for discussing the scope of the India-South Africa waiver proposal in terms of what all TRIPS provisions and products it would cover, and the other on June 24 to discuss the EU proposal,” the official pointed out.

Joint proposal

India and South Africa submitted a joint proposal to the WTO on October 2 last year, which was revised last month, proposing a temporary waiver of some TRIPS obligations for Covid-19 vaccine and other health products and technologies for the prevention, treatment or containment of the virus forthree years. It was supported by a large number of developing countries and LDCs.

While developed countries such as the US, Australia and New Zealand finally came on board this month and supported text-based negotiations on the issue, there is a possibility that they would want the waiver to be restricted to just a few items, mainly vaccines. “The TRIPS council met on Thursday after a decision taken in its last meeting to begin text-based negotiations for an urgent IP response to Covid based on India-South Africa’s proposal, but also taking into account other proposals, including the one made by the EU,” said the official.

An elaborate proposal

Unfortunately, for India and South Africa, the EU did not mince words in opposing their proposal, sayingthat the broad waiver proposed by them was not the right response to the pandemic. It said that the discussion should have a more targeted approach focussing on limiting export restrictions, supporting production expansion, and facilitating the use of current compulsory licensing provisions in the TRIPS Agreement by including simple mechanisms for its use. It said it would announce a more elaborate proposal soon.

According to the Chair’s decision, consultations between smaller delegations should start immediately on the proposed measures, and members should also consult with their respective government’s back home on the matter, said the official. This could then lead up to the open-ended sessions.

There will be some more informal sessions on July 6, July 14 and July 20, and on the last day the TRIPS Council will meet again formally to agree on a report based on the discussions to be presented to the General Council.

“If members come to an agreement on the appropriate IP response by July 20 and present it to the General Council, it can be hoped that the agreement will be implemented. However, if consensus continues to elude members then the matter can drag on,” said the official.

Published on June 18, 2021

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