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Revised India-SA proposal seeks ‘immediate’ talks at WTO to waive IP rights on Covid products

Revised proposal submitted by India & South Africa Saturday still firm on waiver of intellectual property rights for all Covid products. US supports waiver only for vaccines.

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New Delhi: India and South Africa have submitted a revised joint proposal to the World Trade Organization (WTO) for intellectual property (IP) rights waiver on Covid-related medical products, and urged the intergovernmental body to begin formal negotiations “immediately”, ThePrint has learnt.

Under the revised proposal, which was submitted at the Geneva-based WTO Saturday, both countries have remained firm on their original demand — as listed in the October 2020 proposal — seeking a temporary waiver of IP protections not just on vaccines but also on Covid-related health products and technologies.

These include diagnostics, therapeutics, medical devices, personal protective equipment, their materials or components, and methods and means of manufacture for products meant for the prevention, treatment or containment of Covid-19.

This, despite the fact that the US wants only vaccines to be eligible for a temporary waiver from provisions under the WTO’s Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) framework, and not other items. 

India and South Africa, sources told ThePrint, believe it is “equally critical” to have the waiver on therapeutics and medical devices and not just on vaccines. 

The revised proposal, however, seeks the waiver for a shorter period — three years, as opposed to the original demand that it stay in place until global herd immunity is achieved. The two countries have suggested that the General Council, the highest decision-making body of the WTO, take a call after three years on whether the waiver should be extended.  

“This waiver shall be in force for at least 3 years from the date of this decision. The General Council shall, thereafter, review the existence of the exceptional circumstances justifying the waiver, and if such circumstances cease to exist, the General Council shall determine the date of termination of the waiver,” the revised proposal said.

The revised proposal states the need for a “practical and flexible duration”.

Also Read: Even if WTO waives patent rights, no country can start making a Covid vaccine immediately

EU ‘indecisive’, Japan, Australia continue to oppose move  

Sources said these issues will be thrashed out when all 164 members of the WTO begin formal negotiations on the matter. It can take a long time, they added, if the matter is not acted upon urgently. 

Europe, the sources said, continues to remain “indecisive in the matter”, while other developed countries such as Japan, Canada and Australia, among others, remain opposed to such a move.  

Talking about the revised proposal, Leena Menghaney, South Asia Head for the Médecins Sans Frontières (Access Campaign), said the “last remaining governments that keep dragging their feet, especially the EU”, should “urgently get behind this proposal and stop acting as though ‘business as usual’ will get us out of this pandemic”.

“The revised proposal is aimed at ensuring that the TRIPS waiver is tailored to meet the needs of this pandemic … Following the US’ ground-breaking expression of support for the TRIPS waiver this month, there has been a growing global consensus that this needs to happen, and happen fast,” she added. 

The joint revised proposal by India and South Africa will first be discussed at the informal meeting of the WTO TRIPS Council, which is slated to meet on 30-31 May. It will then be formally taken up on 8-9 June, when all the countries are expected to present their respective proposals, said a source.

The US decided to support waiving IP rights for Covid vaccines on 5 May.

The TRIPS Agreement came into effect in January 1995. It is a multilateral agreement on the protection of intellectual property.

 (Edited by Sunanda Ranjan)

Also Read: Why the TRIPS waiver is unlikely to solve India’s Covid-19 vaccine shortage


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