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TRIPS waiver: Fears of global shortage of Covid-19 vaccine becoming a reality, says India

Amiti Sen New Delhi | Updated on January 20, 2021

‘Many countries not able to utilise their manufacturing capacities due to IP barriers’

India has made a renewed case for Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) waiver at the World Trade Organization (WTO) pointing out that the worst fears of global shortage in Covid-19 vaccine supplies were becoming a reality, according to a Geneva-based official.

There were delays in vaccine rollout programmes in most countries as manufacturing and availability of the vaccine doses were falling short owing to intellectual property (IP) barriers, it said at the informal meeting of the TRIPS Council on Tuesday.

WTO members could not reach a consensus on the proposal by India and South Africa for a temporary waiver of certain TRIPS obligations, made on October 2, 2020, to ensure supplies of essential medication during the Covid-19 pandemic, but they agreed to continue consideration of the suggestions, the official said.

Also read: India, South Africa proposal for TRIPS waiver to be taken up again at WTO

“Some members, many of them developed countries, continued to oppose the waiver putting forward their earlier arguments with about 30 members exchanged views on the matter,” the official said.

The opposers

Members such as Japan, the EU and the US had opposed the waiver arguing that it will not serve any purpose in improving medical supplies during the pandemic. The EU argued that it was unnecessary and pointed out that the expansion of production was already taking place with companies granting licences.

New Delhi, however, argued that licensing arrangements for increasing manufacturing of vaccines were not working as much as required. It pointed out that due to new IP barriers, there were many countries that were not able to utilise their manufacturing capacities to produce the vaccines.

South Africa pointed that there was a sharp increase in casualties since the discussion for the proposed waiver had started and evidence was now coming up on how global vaccination would be hindered due to IP barriers to access, the official said.

‘Move to next level’

It said members opposing the waiver should reconsider some aspect of the proposal like timeframes and scope. South Africa proposed that no more time should be spent on the evidentiary aspect of the discussion and the next formal TRIPS Council should move to text-based discussions. At the last informal meeting in December 2020, the country presented a paper that had examples of IP creating problems in access to medical products. It included barriers related to trade secrets, industrial designs and know-how.

Afghanistan, Pakistan, Zimbabwe, Egypt, Mongolia, Chad, Indonesia, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Cambodia and Venezuela also spoke in support of the waiver proposal.

More clarity on the operation of the waiver was sought by China, Chinese Taipei, Chile, Malaysia, Australia, Colombia and Canada.

Published on January 20, 2021

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