India initiated proposal seeking a temporary waiver of global intellectual property rights rules in view of the pandemic has got wider support with 57 WTO members joining the initiative as co-sponsors.
The proposal seeks exemption from a clause in the Trips agreement that poses challenges for countries with limited manufacturing capacity to access medical supplies including diagnostic kits, vaccines, medicines, personal protective equipment and ventilators.
The proposal, initially introduced in October 2020 by India and South Africa now reflects voice of a large group of members of WTO with many more supporting from the floor in TRIPS Council since its introduction. Africa Group and LDC Group are the latest co-sponsors.
The increase in number of delegations co-sponsoring demonstrates the growing importance of the waiver proposal that aims to ensure uninterrupted flow of medicines, vaccines and medical equipment among countries amid the ongoing pandemic, an official of the commerce ministry said.
The WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) is the most comprehensive multilateral agreement on intellectual property (IP).
India had also raised the urgent need for a Trips waiver at an informal mini-ministerial meeting of around 30 members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) earlier this year with Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal using the platform asking members to “rise above the narrow interests and entrenched positions” and support proposal.
The waiver proposal assumes importance as India along with other WTO members are pushing for a ministerial meeting of the global trading body to ratify the plan an ensure universal access to key medicines even for the least developed nations during the time of the pandemic.
Developed countries including US, EU, Japan, UK have been opposing the move for a waiver arguing that it does not address the issue of manufacturing capacity or raw marital development that is currently affecting the global supplies at the time of the pandemic.
“…if Waiver will not lead to increase in manufacturing capacity, meaning, no new manufacturers will enter into production of Covid products even with the proposed waiver in place, then how will the commercial interests of existing IP holders be impacted? On the other hand, if manufacturing is going to increase significantly and thereby impacting commercial interests of IP right holders, then are we not agreeing that final objective in the present scenario is to increase manufacturing,” said the government official making a strong case for waiver.
“We cannot continue to engage in endless discussions while millions of lives and livelihoods are lost to the coronavirus pandemic. We need concerted efforts by all WTO Members to ensure that the WTO makes a meaningful contribution to defeat COVID-19,” the official added.
Waiver is a legal instrument provided for exceptional circumstances under Article IX (3) of the Marrakesh Agreement establishing the WTO. Since, Covid19 is an extremely exceptional crisis, therefore, the proposed limited, temporary and proportionate waiver from certain provisions of TRIPS Agreement, is perfectly within the framework of Multilateral Trading System.