Examining the “subtle shift” in the TRIPS Waiver talks

The EU calls on South Africa to resolve impasse

Over the last two weeks, there have been indications of some behind-the-scenes movement that show WTO members’ willingness to arrive at a consensus on the intellectual property response to the pandemic. Although at the face of it, there has been no structural change in the way countries have aligned on the TRIPS Waiver discussions, nevertheless there has been greater engagement among members, sources familiar with the discussions say. As we reported last week, during the General Council meeting at the WTO, officials had suggested “a subtle shift” in these discussions.

What continues to be unclear however, is whether the direction of this shift is towards the bold proposal made by South Africa and India, on temporarily suspending a range of intellectual property protections in order to unplug bottlenecks in the manufacturing of medical products, to swiftly respond to the pandemic.

The “shift” was welcomed by the EU, UK, Norway and other opponents to the waiver proposal, at a TRIPS Council formal meeting at the WTO this week, where they highlighted the emerging “points of convergence”.

Soon, there were reports on a new proposal by the EU that underscores existing flexibilities in the WTO TRIPS agreement, without changing intellectual property ownership and the benefits that accrue.

The proposal appears to take forward its intention of mostly tweaking with compulsory licensing provisions (EU’s earlier proposal), but having “waiver-like characteristics”.

(Sources close to the discussions clarified to us, that this proposal was not clearly EU’s proposal, but admitted that the said document was a technical paper used in the discussions and closely portrays prevailing EU’s position on these issues.)

It is understood that the EU invited negotiators from developing countries, particularly South Africa.

Reuters reported that South Africa and the EU were in intense talks to resolve impasse. Separately, Politico also discussed a September 30 position paper that showed no change in EU’s plan (Politico: EU stands by opposition to vaccine IP waiver but touts ‘convergence’)

This story discusses this new EU proposal, in light of the demands made by the proponents of the waiver. We also bring you updates from the TRIPS Council discussions this week. In addition, significant remarks made by WTO DG Ngozi Oknojo-Iweala and USTR’s Katherine Tai are also featured here.

Photo by Guillaume Meurice from Pexels

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