India, South African Ministers ‘discussed plans for TRIPS waiver push’

We held talks hours before WTO meet was called off, says Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal

Published - November 27, 2021 09:28 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal. File

Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal. File

Hours before the World Trade Organisation (WTO) called off its upcoming ministerial meeting , Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal spoke to his South African counterpart Ebrahim Patel over contingency plans to pilot their joint proposal for a waiver in the TRIPS agreement to counter the pandemic.

Mr. Goyal and Mr. Patel, Minister for Trade, Industry and Competition, spoke over the phone after it had become apparent late on Friday that the latter would not be able to travel to Geneva for the WTO ministerial council meeting due to travel restrictions triggered by the latest variant of the virus.

“As you know, the meeting has also been postponed and rightly so, I am glad. Even late last [Friday] night, at about 1:30 I was talking to my South African counterpart who is now not able to travel to Geneva because of the travel restrictions,” Mr. Goyal said, in his first statement on the deferral of the critical talks that were to begin on November 30.

“We were wondering how we are going to negotiate the TRIPS waiver to provide the WTO response to the pandemic. Both of us agreed that we will pitch for a cancellation or a postponement of this MC-12. Not that I made any calls, but he was going to be talking to the WTO Director General [Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala] after our chat. I am delighted that within an hour and a half of that, we heard that the MC-12 has been cancelled,” Mr. Goyal said at an interaction with the CII.

While the Indian economy’s key indicators are showing healthy growth, the Minister said there are concerns around “what’s happening in Europe, and also particularly in South Africa”, referring to the fresh lockdowns in parts of Europe and the emergence of the Omicron variant.

India, South Africa and Indonesia are jointly seeking a waiver to certain provisions of the WTO agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) to enable more affordable access to vaccines and medicines for coping with the pandemic.

Professor Carlos Correa, executive director at the Geneva-based South Centre, said developing countries should use the time available due to the postponement of the meet to consolidate their positions on various issues including fisheries subsidies, agriculture, TRIPS waiver and the Special and Differential Treatment norms. He was speaking at a programme held by the Research and Information System for Developing Countries (RIS) to launch its World Trade and Development Report.

RIS chairman Mohan Kumar also emphasised on developing countries “to get their act together by looking at the opportunities and challenges that have emerged due to the postponement. Ensuring ‘success of the MC12 at any cost’ should not mean that ‘success’ is cornered by the developed world and developing countries are left to bear the ‘costs’,” he said.

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