Despite the indefinite postponement of World Trade Organization (WTO)’s 12th Ministerial Conference, the Council for Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) will continue discussions on proposal made by India and South Africa to waive off certain provisions of the TRIPS Agreement for facilitating access and affordability to innovations, technology and products needed for the prevention, containment and treatment of Covid-19. The Council has also kept open the proposal from the European Union for a draft General Council declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health in the circumstances of a pandemic as an agenda item. The two proposals reflect the fundamental difference of opinion among WTO members on questions such as whether a waiver is the appropriate and most effective way to address the shortage and inequitable distribution of vaccines and other Covid-related products.
In a statement, WTO said a formal meeting of the TRIPS Council on November 29 saw members expressing unanimous support for maintaining the momentum of the discussions on a common intellectual property (IP) response to Covid-19. “Following the decision to postpone the 12th Ministerial Conference amid new coronavirus variant concerns, delegations committed to continue engaging in various configurations in the coming weeks to try and harvest any outcome that may still be possible”.
The WTO statement said the chair of the Council, Ambassador Dagfinn Sørli of Norway, will convene small group consultations to build consensus on a substantive solution in the coming days. It was also stated that Sørli remained convinced that a pragmatic compromise solution is within reach if there is political will. “In the absence of political input from ministers in the short term, Ambassador Sørli called on members not to relent, as a practical and tangible WTO response to the pandemic is needed now more than ever. At a time when the pandemic continues to challenge the world's sense of stability, he urged delegations to remain fully engaged with a sense of urgency and with the objective of finding a pragmatic outcome”, the statement said.
The proposal of India and South Africa had called for a minimum three-year waiver of TRIPS provisions in relation to health products and technologies, including diagnostics, therapeutics, vaccines, medical devices, personal protective equipment, their materials or components, and their methods and means of manufacture for the prevention, treatment or containment of Covid-19. The EU proposal wanted the General Council to emphasise the need to use flexibilities such as compulsory licensing, already part of the TRIPS provisions, to ensure production and supply of affordable Covid-19 vaccines and medicines.