New Delhi: India and South Africa’s proposal to temporarily waive the intellectual property and patent rights on Covid vaccines once again met with stiff opposition from the developed world at an informal meeting of the World Trade Organization (WTO), ThePrint has learnt.
New Delhi said new restrictions have led to delays in rolling out inoculation plans for Covid-19 in many countries, sources said.
The proposal to temporarily waive IPR and patent laws from Covid vaccines, medical devices and protective kits was jointly floated by India and South Africa at the WTO in Geneva on 2 October last year, to make them easily accessible to all countries.
However, a Geneva-based trade official told ThePrint that despite several informal meetings of the Council for Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (known as the TRIPS Council) of the WTO, the proposal is “far from reaching a consensus”, though it has found support from some developing countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Zimbabwe, Egypt, Mongolia, Chad, Indonesia, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Cambodia and Venezuela.
At the latest informal meeting on 19 January, the TRIPS Council tried to reach a consensus among the WTO’s 164 members, but, failing that, another meeting has been scheduled on 4 February.
“This meeting will provide an opportunity to put on record members’ views on the waiver request, as they stand after these discussions, and to deliberate on any decisions or reports that the council might wish to provide to the next general council, scheduled for 1-2 March,” the Geneva-based official said.
India says ‘worst fears’ of shortage are coming true
India has started a massive Covid vaccine export plan, shipping millions of doses of vaccines to the neighbourhood and beyond from 19 January onwards, three days after beginning its own nationwide Covid-19 inoculation drive.
At the 19 January TRIPS Council meeting, the trade official cited India as stressing that “the worst fears of shortage and supplies have come true, with vaccine rollout programs of almost all countries in the world suffering delays due to insufficient manufacturing and non-availability of the required number of vaccine doses, and a large number of manufacturing facilities in many countries with a proven capacity to produce safe and effective vaccines unable to utilise those capacities due to new IP barriers”.
India also said that “limited, restrictive and non-transparent voluntary licensing agreements” will not prove to be adequate in addressing the massive global demand of vaccines and treatments.
The Indian delegation in Geneva is also said to have also informed the WTO that licencing arrangements for ramping up production capacities of Covid vaccines have proven to be “wishful thinking”, while voluntary licences are “shrouded in secrecy.”
It also said that the terms and conditions of voluntary licences are “not transparent and the scope is limited to specific amounts, or for a limited subset of countries, thereby encouraging nationalism”.
Developed world’s opposition
According to the trade official, the European Union, the US, Switzerland, the UK and Japan are strongly opposed to the proposal, and have argued that waiving IP rights does not address the problems of capacity or raw materials that are currently impeding sufficient supply.
These countries also stressed that the current TRIPS system contains sufficient tools to address any IP-related problems, and that implementation of the waiver proposal would undermine the current efforts to fight the pandemic by drawing resources away from pursuing effective solutions within the existing system.
“The IP waiver will have a wider application than vaccines and can also be used for medicines, diagnostics and other medical tools needed to combat Covid-19… Providing monopoly control over key medical tools to a single corporation in a pandemic is both unjustified and counterproductive,” said Leena Menghaney, global IP adviser to Medecins Sans Frontieres’ Access Campaign.
“Such monopoly control hampers the scale-up of production needed to ensure global equitable access to medical products to end the pandemic,” Menghaney said.