No consensus on TRIPS talks

Developed countries shift narrative raising questions on safety and efficacy issues around drugs

As images of the elderly in the UK receiving the first vaccine shots to protect against COVID-19 flashed across the world, the reality of the lack of access to vaccines in the poorer countries became stark.

It is in this backdrop, that countries discussed the so-called TRIPS waiver proposal, which seeks to temporarily suspend intellectual property protection to hasten the access to COVID-19 medical products.

Countries today kicked the can down the road so to speak, even as the world is losing crucial time in its fight against the pandemic with deaths from COVID-19 mounting globally. The US, Canada, and the EU, among others, reiterated their opposition to the proposal at the formal meeting today, blocking any consensus on the proposal.

Photo by Miguel Á. Padriñán from Pexels

The waiver proposal seeks to allow all countries to not grant or enforce intellectual property protection for the duration of the pandemic, until widespread vaccination has been achieved. The proposal recognizes intellectual property, trade secrets, industrial designs, as barriers to sharing technology. 

WTO members met at a formal meeting of the TRIPS council meeting today where they failed to reach a consensus on the proposal for a temporary waiver from the obligations of certain provisions in the TRIPS Agreement.

Members have agreed to keep the waiver proposal in the agenda of future TRIPS Council meetings. The next formal meeting of the TRIPS Council is expected to be in March 2021, and possibly consultations sooner next year.

Only an oral status report from the TRIPS Council is expected to be presented at the next General Council meeting, on 16-17 December. The General Council, is the highest decision making body at the WTO. It is unclear the extent of political consideration this proposal will garner next week.

The proponents, South Africa and India, have sizeable support among WTO members, also acquiring greater depth in recent weeks with concrete backing from capitals across many countries.

However, a handful of powerful countries continue to wield the levers to block this proposal by deploying a shift in the narrative including raising questions on the efficacy and the safety of the drugs from developing countries.

It is also understood that according to a view from Brussels on this proposal, the EU distrusts India. Allegedly, the EU views this proposal as an opportunity for countries like India to “flood the market with their products”, a source aware of these opinions held by the EU, told this reporter. (We were unable to confirm this with the EU at the time of writing.)

In this story, we take a close look at the substantial issues discussed between members, the procedures that will guide the proposal in coming days and, how these consultations can unfold.


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