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India pitches for early start to talks on patent waiver for Covid drugs

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AFPIn a significant breakthrough, World Trade Organization (WTO) members on Wednesday agreed to engage in a text-based discussion on the proposal for waiver intellectual protection rights for Covid medication.

Members have agreed to discuss both the proposals; the one suggested by India and South Africa and another by the European Union, which backs use of flexibilities within existing frameworks instead of new ones.

India will press for starting text-based discussions on waiver of certain provisions of the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement for Covid19 medication as soon as mid-June.

“None of the naysayers said no to moving on to text-based negotiations. The TRIPS Council thus, agreed with consensus to go ahead with text based negotiations on our TRIPS Waiver proposal,” said an official.

The chair of the TRIPS Council concluded that there is no objection from any member to start text-based negotiations.

“Further, the Chair in his conclusion stated, that with no objection from any member to take the deliberations to another level that is the text based negotiations, he will start the consultations process, in this regard he called for open ended TRIPs Council plenary meeting on June 17 to move forward,” the official said.

India, which had moved the proposal jointly with South Africa, is keen for early talks.

“The deadline we had suggested was the end of July to conclude negotiations. Chair has suggested reaching a conclusion by July 21, when the General Council is scheduled to meet,” the official said, adding that in the meantime, India will engage with all members on the line-by-line text negotiations.

Over the last two days 48 members, including the EU, reiterated their positions and well-known differences but expressed their willingness to engage in a discussion based on the two proposals.

Intense negotiations are expected in the next few weeks as though diverging views persist, the TRIPS Council chair said he did not hear any objections to take the deliberations to another level by engaging in a text-based process.

Another official said the text-based process to find common ground on the intellectual property issue will start from mid of next week and all the proposals including the one by India and South Africa, the EU and any new ones will be taken up.

Members speak

To start with, WTO members will have an informal meeting on June 17 before they move forward in a substantive way and to agree on the needed steps to be taken leading up to the General Council meeting on July 21-22.

South Africa said the revised version signals health products and technologies in general, as the prevention treatment or containment of Covid-19 will not be attained only through vaccines.

On the issue of the proposed three-year duration of the waiver, India stressed it considers the uncertainties surrounding the pandemic, with new variant outbreaks, while also bringing out the temporary nature of the waiver.

“India emphasised that the proponents have no intention of continuing the waiver for an indefinite period and no intention of denying benefits to rights holders,” said a Geneva-based official.


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