From the Viewsroom

No tripping on TRIPS

Amiti Sen | Updated on May 30, 2021

Focus must be on getting IP waiver for Covid vaccine fast

When India and South Africa proposed a temporary waiver of intellectual property (TRIPS) obligations for Covid-19 related medical products at the WTO last October, the idea may have seemed utopian to many. In a world where powerful developed countries are influenced by pharmaceutical giants trying to perpetuate patent protection on their products, a waiver on intellectual property, despite being short term, would seem impossible.

But seven months down the line, in a world rocked by death and despair, belief in an alternative system that is not guided by profitability alone but the needs of the people seems to be growing. The waiver proposal has more than 60 co-sponsors now and over 100 members have expressed their support for it. It was indeed a “wow” moment for the initiative when US Trade Representative Katherine Tai expressed her country’s willingness to engage in negotiations on a IP waiver for vaccines this month, although she was quiet about waiver for crucial medicines and medical products. Not willing to let the US get away with the bouquets, the EU, too, said it was ready to talk on vaccines but didn’t give any guarantees. New Zealand, France and Spain followed Tai’s lead and said they too were ready to negotiate on vaccines at the WTO.

India and South Africa rightly insisted in their revised proposal that the waiver must apply to all medicines and medical products and not just vaccines to effectively tackle the pandemic. But in their eagerness to pursue what is right, the proponents must not throw away what is on offer. With precious lives getting lost every day due to the pandemic, the judicious thing would be to grab what is on the table without losing time while keeping negotiations open for relaxations on more medical products. India and South Africa must start negotiations on a TRIPS waiver immediately as any further delay may defeat the whole purpose of ensuring timely help to poor countries struggling to cope with the pandemic. It is only by winning the small fights that one may expect to win the battle.

Published on May 30, 2021

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