EU proposal at WTO may delay progress on patent waiver on Covid-19 drugs & vaccine

MUMBAI: The European Union has submitted a draft declaration at the World Trade Organisation (WTO), “ignoring” the objectives of intellectual property (IP) waiver jointly sought by India and South Africa on Covid-19 drugs and vaccines.
The EU declaration, which reiterates its position of using existing provisions under the WTO’s TRIPS (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) Agreement during the pandemic, is being perceived by public health experts as a diversionary tactic.
This could delay the progress of reaching a consensus on the waiver, which is critical to address the stark inequities in the access to Covid-19 vaccines, globally, they added.
If adopted, the IP waiver is expected to provide countries with critical policy space to address IP barriers to increase collaboration in research and development, manufacturing, scale-up, and, hence boost supply of Covid-19 medicines and vaccines.
The declaration comes ahead of an informal meeting of a small group of countries at the TRIPS Council on June 24, where it is expected to be discussed. Hopes had risen among WTO members that the negotiations will be fast-tracked, and a possible consensus may emerge soon.
In its position made public earlier this month, the EU reaffirmed the content of Doha Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health, and asked governments to “facilitate the use of compulsory licensing. The Agreement already provides this flexibility, which is a legitimate tool during the pandemic that can be used swiftly where needed”.
“Of the three proposals in the draft text, two are already existing in the TRIPS agreement. There is no need for any legal clarifications with regard to the right of a WTO Member State to declare a national health emergency. Similarly, there is enough policy space in the TRIPS Agreement to determine compensation in case of government use or compulsory license. Adoption of a waiver will take care of even the third proposal i.e. the waiver of notification requirements (under Article 31 bis). This is a desperate attempt to divert attention and delay the text-based negotiations. Further, the proposal is silent on other IP barriers like trade secrets on the scaling up of production of vaccines, diagnostics and biotherapeutics required for the Covid-19 response,” KM Gopakumar, legal advisor of international health and development non-governmental organisation, Third World Network told TOI.
Further, the EU declaration says “In the circumstances of a pandemic, the exporting Member may provide in one single notification a list of all countries to which vaccines and medicines are to be supplied by the exporting member directly or through indirect means, including international joint initiatives that aim to ensure equitable access to the vaccines or medicines covered by the compulsory licence.”

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