Covid-19 products: WTO to begin talks on patent waiver

Covid-19 products: WTO to begin talks on patent waiver

After stiff resistance from rich nations, members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) on Wednesday unanimously agreed to initiate granular, text-based negotiations for a patent waiver proposal initiated by India and South Africa, in a significant step towards fighting the Covid-19 pandemic.

The proposal, first submitted in October last year, sought patent waivers to manufacture Covid-related medical products by temporarily suspending certain parts of the global Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement.RELATED NEWS

After a two-day meeting of the WTO’s TRIPS Council through Wednesday, the chairman concluded that “there is no objection from any member to start text-based negotiations”, a senior Indian commerce ministry official said. As many as 48 members, including the EU, had joined the discussion.

The proposal had earlier faced strong opposition from developed members, especially the US (under Donald Trump) and the EU. But after Joseph Biden took over as the American President, the US softened its stance and agreed to undertake further consultations. The EU was among the last to budge on the issue.

The chairman of the TRIPS Council will now start consultations and a plenary meeting is called on June 17 to further discuss the issue. The chair has now called on the members to wrap up text-based negotiations by July 21 when the WTO’s General Council is scheduled to meet, said the official.

The TRIPS waiver is a necessary to removing IP barriers and paving the way for more companies to produce Covid-19 vaccines, therapeutics or diagnostics by providing them with the freedom to operate without the fear of infringement of IP rights or the threat of litigation.

In a statement delivered at a TRIPS informal meeting held on May 31, India said: “The virus has not given us a timeout to go on endlessly discussing the need for or benefit of a waiver. We must rather infuse some certainty in these uncertain times by agreeing to start text-based negotiations on the waiver proposal.”


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