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New Delhi: The World Trade Organisation (WTO) at its meeting Thursday could not arrive at a consensus on adopting a joint proposal by India and South Africa on temporarily waiving the intellectual property and patent rights on Covid vaccines, medical devices and protective kits, despite a significant push by the developing countries to consider it.

On Thursday, the TRIPS Council of the Geneva-headquartered WTO took up the proposal that was submitted jointly by India and South Africa in October for discussion between all the 164 member countries, and “deep divisions” emerged on it, official sources told ThePrint.

This is the second time that the TRIPS Council discussed the matter. It had taken up the matter earlier on 15-16 October.

“At the formal meeting of the TRIPS Council on 10 December, WTO members failed to reach a consensus on the proposal submitted in October by India and South Africa for a temporary waiver of certain TRIPS obligations they said would facilitate an appropriate response to COVID-19. However, members agreed to keep this item in the agenda of future TRIPS Council meetings to allow for further consideration of the waiver request,” a Geneva-based WTO official said.

The official added that the General Council, the highest decision-making apparatus of the WTO, will now take up the matter on 16-17 December. It will decide the “need for further discussions on this issue”.


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The call for waiver

Under the proposal submitted on 2 October, India and South Africa have sought temporary relaxations for intellectual property, patents and other such provisions laid out under the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, also known as TRIPS Agreement of the WTO, on Covid vaccines and other tools required to fight the pandemic by poorer countries.

The proposal stresses the need for “rapid access to affordable medical products including diagnostic kits, medical masks, other personal protective equipment and ventilators, as well as vaccines and medicines for the prevention and treatment of patients in dire need”.

Since October, the proposal has been co-sponsored by the delegations of Kenya, Eswatini, Pakistan, Mozambique, and Bolivia.

However, the US, European Union (EU), Canada, Australia, Japan, Switzerland and the UK have vehemently protested it.

‘Global solution’

During the meeting Thursday, India stressed the fact that for a “global pandemic” that has adversely impacted every country equally, a “global solution” is needed, sources said.

According to the official quoted above, India also said it will be difficult for poorer countries to scale up the supply, under the present TRIPS agreement, and there is a need to source materials from various countries.

New Delhi also said it would provide “greater certainty to manufacturers, by providing them freedom to operate”, if the waiver is implemented, the official said.

This was contested by the US, which said priority should be to identify specific problems regarding access to a particular product and apply effective targeted solutions such as licensing agreements, authorising generic manufacturing, and procurement, said the sources.

The EU said the IPR has not been an obstacle in addressing the pandemic, but has rather motivated global efforts through its incentivising role in research and development to find new treatments and cures.


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