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Sunday, December 05, 2021

IP rights waiver on Covid essentials: Govt engaging EU, others ahead of WTO meet

India is set to push for the acceptance of the proposal at the 12th ministerial conference of the World Trade Organization (WTO), scheduled for November 30-December 3.

Written by Karunjit Singh | New Delhi |
November 16, 2021 3:35:53 am
In October 2020, India and South Africa had submitted a joint proposal seeking a temporary waiver of certain sections of the TRIPS pact, to expand access to Covid vaccines in developing and low-income nations.

India is in talks with the European Union (EU), Australia, Japan and Switzerland over its proposal for a temporary waiver of intellectual property rights (IPR) on Covid-19 vaccines, testing equipment and treatments, as per officials aware of the developments.

These nations have opposed the proposal, stating that there is sufficient flexibility in the existing Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement to pursue compulsory licensing of vaccines and treatments and technology, according to government sources. India is set to push for the acceptance of the proposal at the 12th ministerial conference of the World Trade Organization (WTO), scheduled for November 30-December 3.

In October 2020, India and South Africa had submitted a joint proposal seeking a temporary waiver of certain sections of the TRIPS pact, to expand access to Covid vaccines in developing and low-income nations. It will be applicable to industrial design, trade secrets, patents and copyrights on vaccines, technology and therapeutics in relation to the prevention, containment or treatment of Covid-19. The proposal has support from over 100 countries, and includes 64 countries that have joined as co-sponsors.

“We are engaging with EU, Australia, Japan on a regular basis to allay their concerns,” said a government official, noting that the flexibility offered in TRIPS allowing compulsory licensing was not sufficient to boost vaccine access quickly. Approval of the proposal would require consensus among all 164 members of the WTO.

“It has lot of procedural requirements … licensing is not tried in many of the areas like industrial design, copyrights, undisclosed information,” said the official, noting that pharmaceutical companies have tried to pressure governments to not use provisions on compulsory licensing when it has been attempted in the past.

Officials noted that the United States which had initially opposed the proposal, but later supported a waiver limited to vaccines only. Nations that have opposed the proposal have recommended that governments persuade companies to voluntarily license IPR related to Covid-19 vaccines and treatments, officials said, but added that such attempts had “not worked out” in the past.

Government sources said this was an issue of equity in availability of vaccines, with only 4.5 per cent of the population in low-income countries having received a single dose of a Covid-19 vaccine compared to 70 per cent of the population in developing ones.

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