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WTO calls for urgency in Covid-19 response; members await revised IP waiver proposal from India, South Africa

On a day when the US declared its support to a temporary waiver of IP protection on Covid-19 vaccines, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Director General of WTO, asked the member countries to have a sense of urgency on how they approach this issue of response to Covid-19

twitter-logoJoe C Mathew | May 6, 2021 | Updated 11:01 IST
WTO calls for urgency in Covid-19 response; members await revised IP waiver proposal from India, South Africa
TRIPS waiver proposal, initially submitted by South Africa and India and has since been co-sponsored by a total of 60 WTO members

On a day when the United States declared its support to a temporary waiver of intellectual property (IP) protection on Covid-19 vaccines,  Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Director General of World Trade Organisation (WTO) - the forum where India and South Africa proposed such a waiver in October 2020 -  asked the member countries to have a sense of urgency on how they approach this issue of response to Covid-19.

Also read: US to support India-South Africa WTO proposal to waive off patent protection rules on Covid-19 vaccines

Addressing the general council of WTO, where the issue of intellectual property and access to essential Covid-19 medicines and medical equipment was addressed, Okonjo-Iweala said she is happy to hear the proponents of the TRIPS waiver are putting together a revised text. "I think that it is incumbent on us to move quickly to put the revised text on the table but also to begin and undertake text-based negotiations. I am firmly convinced that once we can sit down with an actual text in front of us, we shall find a pragmatic way forward, acceptable to all sides that allow the kinds of answers that our developing country members are looking at with respect to vaccines, whilst at the same time looking at research and innovation and how to protect them," she said.

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A WTO statement said the participants of the General Council meeting agreed to allow the Council for Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) to continue consideration of the proposal first put forward by India and South Africa for a temporary waiver of certain TRIPS obligations in response to COVID-19.

"Over 40 delegations took the floor at the General Council under this agenda item. Members expressed different views in their discussion about the impact of IP protection in ensuring rapid and safe access to vaccines and other medical products. Supporters of the proposal were of the view that the current challenges posed by the pandemic can only be effectively addressed by waiving certain TRIPS obligations. Other delegations remained unconvinced about the necessity for a waiver at the international level, with some members arguing that a waiver might undermine ongoing collaborative efforts," the statement said.

The TRIPS waiver proposal, initially submitted by South Africa and India and has since been co-sponsored by Kenya, Eswatini, Mozambique, Pakistan, Bolivia, Venezuela, Mongolia, Zimbabwe, Egypt,  the African Group and the Least Developed Countries Groups and most recently the Maldives, Fiji and Namibia - a total of 60 WTO members.

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