This week WTO members were given access to a letter that was described as an outcome document based on the discussions between select members. This letter was sent by the Director General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to the Chair of the Council for Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, Ambassador Lansana Gberie of Sierra Leone, describing the progress of the informal discussions on the TRIPS Waiver proposal. The letter also shared a proposed text by the DG on the waiver discussions.
Although the document does not specifically mention the quadrilateral group (comprising the US, the EU, India and South Africa) it is understood that this text that was shared with the wider membership, is based on the discussions between these key members.
In her letter to the TRIPS Council Chair, the new text is presented to the WTO membership under the DG’s ownership.
DG Okonjo-Iweala says in the letter, “What was evident was the need for additional impetus to the TRIPS waiver discussions given the impasse in the TRIPS Council. I therefore informed Members that I would be reaching out to various Ministers for needed input. In this regard, working with DDG Gonzalez, we have tried to support an informal group of Ministers to come together around what could be a meaningful proposal, without prejudice to their respective positions, that could provide a platform to be built upon by the membership.”
The letter further says, “I assured Members that whatever outcome emerged from this informal process would be put forward transparently to the full Membership for discussion in the TRIPS Council”.
Why is this important?
Sources say that this so-called outcome text has struggled to get endorsement and ownership from the US, India and South Africa. The EU has supported the text. In the meantime, even as these three countries have not completed internal consultations on the text, as has been suggested, pressure continued to build on the DG to make the text public, albeit without the endorsement of all the members of the Quad.
Today, 6 May, WTO members discussed this text at a formal meeting of the TRIPS Council. A General Council meeting of the WTO is scheduled next week on 9-10 May.
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