Differences persist between rich and poorer countries at the WTO overextending intellectual property (IP) waiver for Covid-19 diagnostics and therapeutics by the stipulated year-end deadline. India, South Africa, the Least Development Countries group and the African Caribbean and Pacific nations are insisting on extension of the decision on vaccines to the other two categories without any changes. But members such as the EU, UK, and Japan have sought more evidence to prove that IP constituted a barrier.

At a recent meeting of the WTO TRIPS Council, a representative of the World Health Organisation, who was present as an observer, highlighted that the test and treating strategy was vital for tackling the Covid-19 pandemic and noted that many developing, and least developed countries were facing challenges to access affordable diagnostics, a Geneva-based trade official told businessline.

WTO Seeks position papers

“The WTO TRIPS Council chairperson has now asked member countries for text-based proposals, such as position papers, so that it is easier for other members to respond to it and move towards a consensus. The idea is to take concrete steps so that a decision is reached by December 17 deadline,” the official said.

Trade Minister of WTO member countries already adopted a decision on the TRIPS Agreement at the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference in Geneva in June this year allowing a targeted waiver of patent protection to allow diversified production of Covid-19 vaccines over the next five years. It was agreed that a decision on extending the waiver to cover the production and supply of Covid-19 diagnostics and therapeutics would be taken in the next six months.

Diagnostics, therapeutics

A large number of LDCs and developing countries, including India, have expressed a view that the IP waiver for vaccines should be extended, without any changes in language or scope, to diagnostics and therapeutics as well as these were equally important for fighting the pandemic.

Switzerland, Singapore, Japan, Canada, Korea, the European Union and the United Kingdom, however, insisted that first they needed conclusive evidence proving that IP was a barrier to access to therapeutics and diagnostics before giving the consent to extending the proposed waiver.

Some of these countries opposing a waiver have been maintaining that compulsory licensing allowed under TRIPS, and voluntary licensing by the patent holder, would be enough to sort out the issue of access to Covid-19 medical supplies. India and other developing countries have argued that the existing disparity in access to vaccines between the rich and poor world showed that compulsory licencing and voluntary licensing was not enough.

The WHO representative attending the meeting pointed out that while there were not enough voluntary licenses from key technology holders to rapidly increase production of therapeutics and diagnostics, it also was limited in scope and many countries got excluded, the official noted.