WTO members discuss proposal of India, South Africa for easing IP rules for COVID-19

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October 20, 2020 10:34 PM

The WTO states the proponents of the proposal argued the relaxations would avoid barriers to the timely access to affordable medical products, including vaccines and medicines.

World Trade Organization, WTO, World Trade Organization news, intellectual property, intellectual property rights, India, South Africa, coronavirus, covid19The Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights or TRIPS Agreement came into effect in January 1995. (Reuters photo)

As many as 40 members of the Geneva-based World Trade Organization (WTO) have discussed a proposal submitted by India and South Africa for relaxing certain provisions in intellectual property (IP) agreement with a view to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. Earlier this month, India and South Africa have submitted a proposal suggesting a waiver for all WTO members on the implementation, application and enforcement of certain provisions of the TRIPS Agreement in relation to the prevention, containment or treatment of COVID-19.

The Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights or TRIPS Agreement came into effect in January 1995. It is a multilateral agreement on intellectual property rights such as copyright, industrial designs, patents and protection of undisclosed information or trade secrets. According to the WTO statement issued on Tuesday, the proponents of the proposal argued the relaxations would avoid barriers to the timely access to affordable medical products, including vaccines and medicines, or to scaling-up of research, development, manufacturing and supply of essential medical products.

“At the meeting of the Council for TRIPS on October 15-16, 2020, WTO members discussed how best to use the global IP system to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic,” it said. It added that some 40 members engaged in a substantive discussion on a proposal submitted by India and South Africa for a temporary waiver of certain TRIPS obligations.

The statement also said that while a number of developing and least-developed country members welcomed the proposal as a contribution to the discussion, many were still studying it in their capitals and asked for clarification on certain points, particularly regarding its practical implementation and the possible economic and legal impact of the waiver at national level.

“A number of developing and developed country members opposed the waiver proposal, noting that there is no indication that intellectual property rights (IPRs) have been a genuine barrier to accessing COVID-19 related medicines and technologies,” it said. Those who are opposing have opined that the suspension of IPRs, even for a limited period of time, was not only “unnecessary” but it would also “undermine” the collaborative efforts to fight the pandemic that are already underway.

The waiver, proposed by the two countries, would cover obligations in four sections of Part II of the TRIPS Agreement – Section 1 ( copyright and related rights), Section 4 (industrial designs), Section 5 (patents) and Section 7 (protection of undisclosed information). It would last for a specific number of years, as agreed by the General Council, and until widespread vaccination is in place globally and the majority of the world’s population is immune. Members would review the waiver annually until its termination.

“According to the proponents, an effective response to the COVID-19 pandemic requires rapid access to affordable medical products such as diagnostic kits, medical masks, other personal protective equipment and ventilators as well as vaccines and medicines,” it said. It added that as new diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines for COVID-19 are developed, there were significant concerns about how these will be made available promptly in sufficient quantities and at affordable prices to meet global demand.

The Council chair, Ambassador Xolelwa Mlumbi-Peter of South Africa, said the matter would remain suspended as members continue to consider the proposal. The council would meet again on the issue.

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