Support grows for India over patents

Started by devikad, May 07, 2021, 07:00 PM

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Support grows for India over patents

The Biden administration on Wednesday announced the US will support temporary waiver of intellectual property rights to Covid-19 vaccines, accepting a key element of a joint proposal by India and South Africa at the World Trade Organization (WTO), and said it will "actively participate" in negotiations to "make that happen".

The decision, also backed by French President Emmanuel Macron, reversed former president Donald Trump's opposition to the proposal in its entirety. It was welcomed as a "monumental moment" by WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and was a called a "bold decision" by Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontierè -- MSF).

The UK and the European Union, too, indicated a change in their posture, but the German government opposed the move, saying it would create "severe complications" for future vaccines.

People familiar with the matter said it is a "limited waiver" that the US is supporting, as it covers only vaccines and not therapeutics and related technologies as proposed by India and South Africa. And, given the consensus-based approach of the WTO, it will not happen overnight.

"The administration believes strongly in intellectual property protections, but in service of ending this pandemic, supports the waiver of those protections for Covid-19 vaccines," US trade representative Katherine Tai said. "We will actively participate in text-based negotiations at the World Trade Organization (WTO) needed to make that happen."

Following US announcement, the EU and the UK also indicated a change in their posture, or a willingness to do it. European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said "we are ready to discuss how the US proposal for a waiver on intellectual property protections for Covid-19 vaccines could help achieve that objective" of addressing the global crisis.

French President Emmanuel Macron, too, reversed his previous stance and said he is "absolutely in favour". In London, a government spokesperson said, "The UK is working with WTO members to resolve this issue. We are in discussions with the US and WTO members to facilitate increased production and supply of Covid-19 vaccines."

The proposal will now be discussed and cleared by the general council, which is the highest decision-making body of WTO. The council will lay down conditions under which member countries will be allowed to "violate" the agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), which protects patents and copyrights. This could take weeks and months or years as it did when WTO dealt with patented drugs and HIV/AIDS that was the last time it confronted similar policy challenges, according to people familiar with ongoing negotiations.

Officials in India welcomed the decision. "We welcome the statement of the US government of 5th May announcing their support for this initiative. We are hopeful that with a consensus-based approach, the waiver can be approved quickly at the WTO," the external affairs ministry said in a statement. "The waiver is an important step for enabling rapid scaling up of manufacture and timely availability of affordable Covid-19 vaccines and essential medical products," it said.

In the joint proposal filed in October, India and South Africa had sought a waiver of TRIPS provision "in relation to prevention, containment or treatment of COVID-19", covering, in other words, vaccines, diagnostic kits and technologies and therapeutics such as remdesivir. The US support for waiver is only for vaccines.


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