The US has expressed its reservations on extending the June Ministerial Decision on the TRIPS Agreement to medicines and tests, going beyond vaccines. At the General Council meeting this week, the US reportedly has said that WTO does not have a mandate and that the decision is limited to whether or not to extend the new rules to medicines and tests. But other countries are keen on discussing ways to adapt and negotiate an outcome so as to include medicines and tests in the scope of the new clarifications.
Geneva-based trade officials said that nearly 30 delegations took the floor to discuss the item on paragraph 8 of the decision at the meeting earlier this week. Recall that the text said: “8. No later than six months from the date of this Decision, Members will decide on its extension to cover the production and supply of COVID-19 diagnostics and therapeutics.”
South Africa and India, the lead sponsors of the original TRIPS Waiver decision, framed the discussions urging for speed in negotiating an outcome on this item. South Africa underlined the need to extend the decision to other medical products beyond vaccines.
India reportedly lamented on the lack of urgency in resolving this decision. The text of the decision says the matter needs to be decided within six months ending December 17, 2022. The next TRIPS Council meting is now scheduled for mid-September. India reportedly pointed out that three months will have been lost since the Ministerial decision in June 2022. It also suggested that substantive discussions on therapeutics and diagnostics had already taken place during the past 20 months at the WTO. It urged that the General Council should take a decision on this, according to sources familiar with the proceedings of the meeting.
Other members including the EU indicated that they were analysing the situation and will prepare for consultations. A number of members reportedly said that they will use the weeks in the summer in Geneva to consult with delegations and prepare for consultations that will follow later in the year. UK also suggested it would engage in good faith discussions in the coming months. Cameroon took the floor on behalf of the African Group. Pakistan and Japan were among other members who took the floor.
The US said that it wants to be clear that the decision did not include a mandate but merely a deadline to conduct the conversation on paragraph 8 of the decision, according to a Geneva-based trade official.
Switzerland said it would conduct factual analysis on the matter. It also drew attention to the multiple applications of treatments and tests beyond COVID-19. It said it would look at existing licensing arrangements and conditionalities, sources said.
If countries fail to reach a decision on this, they could potentially buy more time to resolve the matter. Countries took 20 months to arrive at a decision on framing rules for a limited waiver of IP rules for vaccines, after India and South Africa first brought a proposal in October 2020 seeking an expansive waiver of rules across medical products to address COVID-19.
WTO reported: “DG Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala highlighted the importance given by leaders and ministers to the TRIPS decision, in particular regarding the possible extension of the waiver compromise to diagnostics and therapeutics as COVID-19 continues to spread across world. “I look forward to the discussions. On my part, I would like to encourage delegations to work expeditiously towards a mutually agreeable solution,” she said.”