The patent waiver proposal of India and South Africa must be included in the package of remedies that the WTO is negotiating today as part of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, commerce and industry minister Piyush Goyal said on Monday. “Without a TRIPS (Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) waiver, India’s response to the pandemic will be incomplete,” Goyal said here. At MC 12, he was speaking at a thematic session on pandemics and TRIPS waivers (ministerial conference of the World Trade Organisation).
Regrettably, the discussions reached a deadlock in the TRIPS council, he said. The main elements of the text, which is under negotiations of the WTO’s response to the pandemic, include TRIPS waiver proposal, food security, how trade should be facilitated in the time of pandemic, export restrictions, trade measures, transparency and role of services sector.
For the past year-and-a-half, Goyal said, India and South Africa and 63 co-sponsors of the waiver proposal had urged the WTO membership to adopt the TRIPS waiver proposal for ramping up production of vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics to comprehensively combat the COVID-19 pandemic by enhancing supply and ensuring equitable and affordable access.
India has issues with regard to transparency, export restrictions and market openness. Goyal said that disturbing this delicately-poised document even slightly would unravel the months-long complex negotiations and will run the risk of failing an outcome which ”we are close to achieving”. He said that the WTO response to the pandemic and TRIPS waiver should be finalised together.
”While vaccines were for preventive needs, we need to ramp up manufacturing of therapeutics and diagnostics to achieve a comprehensive test and treat strategy,” he added. Further, he said that vaccines are no longer in scarcity as sufficient and affordable stocks are available across the world. In fact vaccines are now getting wasted due to expiry dates, despite that there is opposition to some of the clauses even now, he said, adding that there is opposition to include therapeutics and diagnostics which could at least pave the way for the future need to tackle any crisis.
”It is of paramount importance for us to commence negotiations on therapeutics and diagnostics. We cannot have a pandemic response which does not deliver an effective and workable outcome on TRIPS, nor can we agree to any pre-shipment notification requirements,” Goyal said. He emphasised that the WTO members should redouble their efforts and commence negotiations on therapeutics and diagnostics as well, since the pandemic is far from over, particularly with the developing countries including the least developed countries.
”If we are only looking at providing vaccines, I think it is too late in the day for that. The pandemic has run its initial course. Currently the vaccines are not in short supply and if we are not even able to look at the near-term future and the requirements of that period then I think it’s pretty much clear that rather than concern for humanity for the hundreds of thousands of lives lost, for the millions affected.” ”It is sad that the super profits of a few pharma companies prevail over global good,” he added.
In October 2020, India and South Africa had submitted the first proposal, suggesting a waiver for all WTO members on the implementation of certain provisions of the TRIPS agreement in relation to the prevention, containment or treatment of Covid. In May 2021, a revised proposal was submitted by them. The agreement on TRIPS came into effect in January 1995.
It is a multilateral agreement on Intellectual Property (IP) rights such as copyright, industrial designs, patents and protection of undisclosed information or trade secrets. The WTO is a 164-member multilateral body which formulates rules for global exports and imports and adjudicates disputes between two or more than two countries on trade-related issues.
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