From the Viewsroom

Focus on poor countries

Amiti Sen | Updated on October 29, 2020 Published on October 29, 2020

India, South Africa’s proposal on TRIPs waiver is most welcome

It is commendable that India and South Africa have managed to initiate a debate on the need to waive some provisions of the TRIPS Agreement on intellectual property at the World Trade Organisation. The objective is to help countries, especially poor nations, fight the Covid-19 pandemic effectively by ensuring smooth supplies of essential medicines and vaccines at affordable prices. This has literally turned the tables on developed members, such as the EU and the US, which have been pressuring developing countries, including India, to bring about stricter IPRs favouring global pharmaceutical biggies. While the proposal may well be blocked by powerful countries at the WTO’s TRIPS Council, the fact that it is being debated in earnest, with tremendous support from many other developing countries and LDCs, is in itself an achievement for India.

Ever since the Doha Development Round, launched in 2001, was put on the back burner, the developed countries have been trying to push their agenda on a piece-meal basis. They got all members to agree on the Trade Facilitation Agreement in 2013. However, they haven’t yet delivered on the related promise of a permanent solution on government procurement for food security that will give countries like India greater freedom to carry on with their MSP programmes without worrying about caps. Attempts are now on to push for a pact on curbing fisheries subsidies and countries such as the US and Australia are opposing flexibilities for developing countries like India.

In the present scenario, when the WTO agenda seems to have been hijacked by rich countries, the initiation of discussions by India and South Africa on waiving TRIPS to ensure easy availability of crucial medical products globally is indeed welcome. The fact that the proposal talks about only a temporary waiver, till the pandemic is on, brings about practicality and balance to it. The humanitarian basis of the demand is difficult to ignore.

Irrespective of what happens on the matter in the subsequent meetings at the WTO, the focus is indeed back on the flip side of the TRIPS Agreement and the dangers of going beyond it.

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Published on October 29, 2020
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