WTO suggests expedited procedures for trade in Covid-19 vaccine inputs

Amiti Sen New Delhi | Updated on July 22, 2021

WHO, WTO to work on ways to ease supplies of critical pandemic related products

The WTO Secretariat has come up with an indicative list of trade-related bottlenecks and trade-facilitating measures on critical products to combat Covid-19, such as inputs used in vaccine manufacturing -- a problem affecting production in India.

“Measures to ease supplies of critical pandemic-related products will be discussed by officials from WTO and WHO in a high-level dialogue beginning Wednesday to decide how it can be adopted by countries,” according to a Geneva-based official.

Vaccine inputs

“There is an absence of expedited procedures for vaccine inputs. Trade in vaccine inputs is subject to standard import and export procedures, which include rigorous documentation requirements and frequent renewal of licences and certificates. They do not benefit from “green channels” or other simplified or expedited procedures put in place for certain critical products to combat Covid-19,” according to an ‘information note’ put together by the WTO Secretariat.

The note further points out that the lack of predictability in the administration of import and export restrictions makes it difficult for vaccine manufacturers to plan and execute the sourcing of critical inputs, resulting in suboptimal supply-chain decisions and accretion of sourcing delays.

Vaccine manufacturing in India has been plagued by shortage in critical input supplies from countries, including the US. “Some guidelines agreed to by all WTO members may help in easing supply of these inputs,” the official said.

Note suggestions

The WTO note also points out the need to ease procedures for personal protection equipment (PPE) and medical equipment. For expedited vaccine approval, the note suggests that measures can include the facilitation of emergency use approval (EUA) based on the prequalification procedure of the WHO Emergency Use Listing or approval by WHO-recognised stringent regulatory authorities (SRAs) “WHO special procedures can be used to share regulatory dossiers under confidentiality agreements and to promote the use of reliance to allow low and middle-income countries to authorise emergency use of vaccines quickly and efficiently,” it said.

To increase supplies of pharmaceuticals and therapeutics, the note suggested global harmonisation with guidelines set by the International Council for Harmonisation of Technical Requirements for Pharmaceuticals for Human Use, on specifications, on impurities and on stability. This would allow pharmaceuticals to be developed faster and to move more quickly between countries by overcoming conflicting or varying pharmacopeia requirements, it said.

With Covid-19 infections continuing to flourish in a number of countries and many influential developed countries dragging their feet on the proposal for temporary waiver of intellectual policy rules on Covid-19 medical products made by South Africa and India, the WTO’s attempt to ease supplies through other measures gains added importance.

Published on July 21, 2021

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