COVID-19 vaccine and IPR Business

TRIPS waiver for vaccines key to growth: India’s envoy to WTO

Failing to approve the COVID-19 waiver for equitable access to medicines under the Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement could dent global economic output by trillions of dollars at the cost of protecting vaccine makers’ business worth just $30-40 billion, India’s ambassador to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) said on Saturday.

India and South Africa have jointly moved a proposal at the WTO’s TRIPS council for a waiver to help more countries get access to medicines and vaccines during the pandemic. Fifty-seven WTO members have backed the proposal, but the EU, U.S., Japan and Canada have opposed the idea stressing the importance of intellectual property for innovation.

“If we fail in the next one or two quarters by not delivering on the TRIPS waiver, let me tell you we will not just fail on the question of equity, we are coming in the way of global growth and livelihoods. It is not only that we are coming in the way of life,” asserted India’s ambassador to the WTO Brajendra Navnit.

“It’s very simple economics. For a commercial business of $30-40 billion of annual vaccine output of a few companies, we are coming in the way of $6-7 trillion of global GDP output in one year. It doesn’t make any sense — to give $1.5 trillion worth of fiscal stimulus on one side, and not to be willing to design a remuneration for the IP rights holder and expand the manufacturing by just putting in $30-40 billion in the bucket,” he said.

Stressing that the TRIPS waiver is ‘the priority agenda’ for the multilateral trade body, Mr. Navnit said India is a committed soldier of the multilateral trading system and doesn’t believe the WTO and multilateralism is dying in the face of a greater reliance on plurilateral and bilateral trade pacts.

Speaking in a session on the future of the WTO after the COVID-19 pandemic at the Asia Economic Dialogue hosted by External Affairs Ministry and the Pune International Centre, Mr. Navnit said that India’s Atma Nirbhar Bharat campaign is ‘not contradictory’ to the principles of ‘free trade’.

An India that can produce for itself can also make for the world and provide an alternative source of production, he said, adding that a key learning from the pandemic is the need to diversify so that the global supply chain is not ‘concentrated in one area’.

India’s WTO representative also pitched for greater market access for agriculture, arguing that developing countries have reduced their tariffs but still face barriers to trade from countries that continue to give high subsidies to large farmers. “This has created a lot of imbalance. We hope we can have a more durable and viable multilateral trading system.”

Criticising the failure of the WTO to hold a ministerial council in the last four years, though its mandate requires at least one meeting every two years, Mr. Navnit said: “I strongly feel that somehow the diplomats and the bureaucrats have taken over the system and they want to keep the political leadership slightly away. The general council has completely taken over the mandate of the ministerial conference.”

“This is what the WTO is lacking at this stage — political leadership is not meeting due to our approach of having a conference every two years. Even during a pandemic, for four years now, we have not allowed the political leadership to meet,” he pointed out, mooting more frequent interactions with the political leadership as most of the calls relating to WTO ‘are political and cannot be taken by diplomats sitting in Geneva’.

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Printable version | Apr 16, 2021 5:25:19 AM |

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