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TRIPS waiver draft falls short of expectations of WTO members

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Economy

Amiti Sen | New Delhi, May 7 | Updated on: May 07, 2022

Limiting coverage of waiver to just vaccines, curbing existing flexibilities areas of contention

The draft text on temporary waiver of TRIPS-related provisions to meet Covid-19 challenges has failed to gain wide acceptance amongst WTO members with many countries criticising its limited coverage restricted to vaccines and curbs on existing flexibilities.

“Several delegations noted that the proposal falls short of the original India-South Africa proposal, as it does not cover other important elements of the IP Covid-19 response including therapeutics and diagnostics and transfer of technology. The limited waiver will, therefore, fail too address the pandemic in a holistic way,” a Geneva-based official told BusinessLine.

At the TRIPS Council meeting on Friday, WTO members discussed the outcome document emerging from the informal process conducted with the Quad, comprising the European Union, India, South Africa and the US, for an intellectual property (IP) response to Covid-19.

Although the document emerged from the Quad discussion, the response from South Africa, India and even the US, made it clear that many details still need to be ironed out. 

Text-based negotiations

“The South African representative called for engagement in text-based negotiations, where in members will negotiate on the draft text and keep making changes to it till a solution acceptable to all members is reached. India said it will remain constructively engaged with members to reach a meaningful outcome on the matter. The US said that it was engaged in domestic consultations on the text and would engage with members to arrive at areas of convergence that can lead to a consensus solution,” the official said.

Some members also noted that clear reference should be made to ensure that a potential future arrangement shall apply without prejudice to existing flexibilities under the TRIPS Agreement.

Unviable for poor countries

Doubts were expressed about a bracketed point (which indicates that the issue is not agreed upon), referring to the issuing of a single authorisation for eligible members to use the subject matter of multiple patents necessary for the production or supply of a Covid-19 vaccines. It indicates that the authorisation shall list all patents covered, which could be a herculean task for poorer countries.

“Indonesia demanded a deletion of the requirement of multiple listing as this would result in additional burden on the officers in charge of compliance. This will be especially true for countries not well equipped to handle such an intense task of risk listing,” the official said. 

The African Group noted that apart from vaccines, other tools, particularly therapeutics and diagnostics, as well as transfer of technology are equally important to address Covid-19 pandemic in a holistic manner.

The TRIPS Council will now continue its consideration of the revised waiver request and report to the WTO General Council on the developments.

Published on May 07, 2022

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