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Get rid of intellectual property rights on COVID-19 products, India tells WTO

Joe C Mathew     November 26, 2020

India has strongly defended its stance that the World Trade Organisation (WTO) should waive off all intellectual property rights (IPR) that may create barriers to accessing vaccines, treatments, or technologies in the global response to COVID-19 pandemic.

The TRIPS (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) flexibilities under WTO, though allow limited policy space for public health, were never designed to address a global public health crisis like COVID-19, the country stated at the informal meeting of TRIPS Council on November 20.

It also asked member countries that are not supportive of the idea to waive off IP rights to not do it domestically, but support the international collaboration with respect to development, production and supply of needed healthcare products for COVID-19  - the objective of the proposed TRIPS Waiver.

India said that invoking TRIPS flexibilities for a range of health products and technologies, required for treatment and prevention of COVID-19 is not a feasible option.

Thanking Kenya, Eswatini and South Africa for their statements supporting the proposal to waive off IP rights on all COVID-19 related treatments and technologies, India said that COVID-19 pandemic being the greatest public health crisis of our time, creates an urgent need for new ideas across all dimensions of healthcare delivery and policy, including intellectual property rights.

Also read: Waive off intellectual property rights on COVID-19 medicines, vaccines: 379 NGOs tell WTO

In response to the argument made by some members that the TRIPS Agreement strikes the right balance and provides for necessary means and remedies to allow the use of protected products, India said that countries all over the world have put in place extraordinary measures to contain COVID-19, but the same countries shy away from even recognising the evidence that IP is a barrier, let alone mustering the global cooperative effort required to scale up manufacturing by addressing the IP issues for ensuring timely, equitable and affordable access to COVID-related therapeutics, vaccines and other goods for all.

India said that while TRIPS flexibilities are usually understood in the context of patents, various types of intellectual property rights i.e. patents, copyrights, industrial designs and trade secrets pose a barrier towards an effective response to the COVID-19 as the pandemic requires access to various commodities, involving multiple IP rights.

Also read: India, South Africa ask WTO to waive off patents, intellectual property protection for faster COVID-19 care access

"Flexibilities in other categories of IPRs than patents, are less understood and rarely implemented before. Therefore, options available to Members through existing TRIPS flexibilities are limited," India said. Moreover, India highlighted the fact that many countries lack the institutional capacities to utilise such flexibilities and very often the implementation and use of flexibilities is accompanied by pressures from trading partners as well as other stakeholders.

Regarding the argument that initiatives such as ACT-Accelerator (ACT-A) and Covax Advance Market Commitment (AMC) including donations to these initiatives are sufficient to address global need for vaccines and therapeutics, India said it welcomes such global cooperation initiatives. However, the country pointed out that these measures may not be sufficient to ensure timely and equitable access to COVID-19 products and technologies.

"The aim of ACT-A including the Covax AMC is to provide 2 billion vaccine doses to the world by the end of 2021. It is designed to address only the initial, acute phase of the pandemic to forestall health service collapse and thus to deliver only 20 percent or less of low and middle income countries' need. Even these acute, minimal goals of the ACT-Accelerator may not be met because it has currently raised only about 15 percent of its funding needs. These initiatives are obviously inadequate to meet the medium and long term needs of the 7.8 billion people of this world," the statement said.

India has also indicated that the country is open to the suggestions from members on the text of the waiver proposal, including its scope and coverage, duration or any other aspects.

Also read: No consensus on India-South Africa's WTO proposal to waive off patent rights for COVID-19 innovation

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