India engaging with WTO member countries on TRIPS waiver proposal to allay concerns: Official

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November 15, 2021 9:54 PM

The deliberations assume significance as the 12th ministerial conference of the 164 countries of the Geneva-based World Trade Organization (WTO) is scheduled from November 30 to December 3.

WHO

India is engaging with countries like Australia, Switzerland, and Japan on a regular basis to allay their concerns on a proposal for temporary waiver of certain provisions of a WTO agreement on intellectual property rights to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, a government official said on Monday.

The deliberations assume significance as the 12th ministerial conference of the 164 countries of the Geneva-based World Trade Organization (WTO) is scheduled from November 30 to December 3. 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 this year, a revised proposal was submitted by 62 co-sponsors, including India, South Africa, and Indonesia.
The agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights or 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. Waiver of provisions related to these rights will help promote manufacturing of vaccines, therapeutics and other equipment as part of efforts to contain COVID.

“The discussions are still ongoing. So far, we have not reached a consensus on this. We are still engaging with countries like Australia, Switzerland, EU (European Union), and Japan on a regular basis to allay their concerns,” the official said.

India has time and again stated that the proposal is asking for only a temporary waiver of the provisions as it would help in fast vaccination and revival of the world economy. These countries have raised certain reservations and concerns on the proposal. According to them, TRIPS agreement has in-built flexibilities such as Compulsory License (CL) and voluntary licensing to deal with the situation. However, India’s stance is that these flexibilities are not sufficient to deal with the situation and issuance of a CL is a long drawn process.

A CL can be invoked by a national government allowing a company to produce a patented product without the consent of the patent owner in public interest. The coverage of vaccination till now in low income nations is about 4.5 per cent of total population as compared to 70 per cent in high income countries, which means the existing flexibilities are not helping to deal with the situation.

IPR is an impediment in affordable and smooth accessibility of COVID vaccines and other products, particularly for developing and poor countries, the official said. “We are also engaged in small group discussions with the people who have issues. We have given answers to all the questions raised by them in detail and we have tried to alleviate their concerns on the proposal,” the official added.

India has also called for inclusion of the proposal in the WTO’s response package being deliberated upon. The elements of this package include removal of export restrictions, no change in customs duties, trade facilitation and transparency.

On the package, the official said that “it goes into areas which are not pure response to the pandemic like imposing export restrictions is a symptom of non-availability of a product and there is no mention of services (movement of professionals). It has selective elements which will probably benefit in the short and long run”.

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