WTO calls for urgent agreement on waiver of intellectual property rights; How it can empower nations to fight Covid-19

The World Trade Organization (WTO) has called on member countries to intensify their efforts to finalize an agreement on the waiver of intellectual property rights (IPRs) for COVID-19 vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics, a proposal referred to by India.

In a meeting held on Monday, the WTO discussed India’s proposal to hold a virtual ministerial meeting on the WTO’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. India had sent a letter to the body’s General Council on December 23 to discuss certain provisions of the agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).

The TRIPS Agreement, which entered into force on January 1, 1995, is a comprehensive agreement on intellectual property rights among all WTO member countries. Even though the TRIPS Agreement has enough leeway, it has stifled the WTO’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The agreement prevents knowledge sharing and technology transfer in the manufacture of vaccines and treatments, through patents.

India and South Africa, along with 64 WTO members, have requested a waiver of certain provisions of the WTO agreement, such as patents, copyrights, designs industrial and TRIPS undisclosed information protection to gain equitable access to vaccines and other medical tools needed to fight COVID-19.

In October 2020, the two countries had proposed that the WTO waive IPRs for vaccine manufacturers. While some countries supported the proposal, Australia, the United Kingdom and the European Union opposed it.

What this means for vaccines

If India’s proposal is approved by WTO members, it would see the standards relaxed for three years, allowing companies to manufacture generic versions of COVID-19 vaccines made by Pfizer-Biotech, AstraZeneca and Moderna. This will in turn reduce vaccine costs, increase competition and make more products available on the market.

The European Union blocked India and South Africa’s proposal and presented its own proposal. The EU has called for a simplification of the existing WTO provision that allows governments to issue compulsory licenses to manufacturers who do not hold patents to manufacture patented medical products in times of public health emergencies, reported The EconomicTimes.

In the presence of these flexibilities built into the TRIPS Agreement, some member countries believe that there is no waiver requirement.

Meanwhile, India has launched small group discussions with some countries like Australia, Switzerland and Japan. “They had reservations about India’s (and South Africa’s) proposal. Thus, they highlighted their concerns and raised questions during the meetings. We have in detail given answers to all the questions raised by them,” reported Business Standard citing sources.

At Monday’s meeting, WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala suggested that member countries reach a consensus on intellectual property in the coming weeks to allow the organization to fully contribute to the fight against COVID-19 and future pandemics.

“We at the WTO must now urgently step up our efforts to do our part to achieve a multilateral outcome on intellectual property and other issues to fully contribute to global efforts in the fight against COVID-19. “, Okonjo-Iweala said in a statement.

(Edited by : Thomas Abraham)

Comments are closed.