Limited Waiver – Journal – DAWN.COM
THE concept of trade-related intellectual property rights, or TRIPS, was the exclusive domain of legal, business and healthcare experts until Covid-19 hit the world and the acronym suddenly became mainstream. The global discussion on TRIPS and its waiver amid the escalating pandemic was sparked by India and South Africa tabling a proposal at the WTO, asking for a waiver from the protection imposed by TRIPS on patents, treatments and technologies in October 2020. was to stimulate the accelerated production and supply of Covid treatments and vaccines to countries in the South.
US President Joe Biden threw his weight behind the proposal soon after his inauguration. Previously, the proposal had been endorsed by 65 developing countries as co-sponsors and another 100 as supporters. The proposal enjoyed the support of hundreds of key NGOs, INGOs, former heads of state and public intellectuals. But despite such support for the immediate lifting of TRIPS protections amid a devastating pandemic, the WTO has taken more than 20 months to reach a new agreement that has been seen as too little, too late.
The significantly watered down version of the deal, in its current form, owes much to the EU, some Western countries and the pharmaceutical industry who opposed the full waiver from the outset. The powerful anti-waiver lobby managed to prolong the discussion even in the midst of a serious global health emergency that required urgent action. After much back and forth, an agreement was reached in June 2022 at the 12th ministerial meeting of the WTO.
The deal fell far short of expectations of countries in the South who seemed to have bowed to the accumulated power of the EU and other Western countries. The deal was endorsed by the Global South despite last-minute pleas from international organizations and activists not to accept the deal in the form in which it was finally approved. The deal, as it stands today, only waives part of the TRIPS-related protection specifically for the Covid vaccine and that too for a limited period. This is not the result that supporters were hoping for.
The agreement waives only part of the protection associated with TRIPS.
Although governments have hailed it as some sort of victory, campaign and advocacy groups have expressed serious reservations about the scope of the deal, the vacuity of the claimed victory and its limited long-term impact. on affordability, production and supply of vital commodities. treatments and vaccines in future pandemics.
Medicines Law & Policy, a specialist research group, called the outcome of the agreement a limited waiver and raised the question of whether it deserved to be called one within the meaning of the full waiver contained in the original proposal. . South Centre, a representative body for countries in the South, expressed a similar view that the agreement is narrow in scope and limited in applicability.
Moreover, the new agreement leaves aside aspirations to waive the protection of trade secrets, copyrights and industrial designs that are essential for affordable access to medicines and treatments worldwide. Third World Network sees the new agreement offering very little that differs from the exemptions already enshrined in previous WTO agreements. The only novelty of the agreement is a further simplification of notification requirements.
Médecins Sans Frontières described the new agreement as bypassing the key issue of pharmaceutical monopolies or easy pathways to affordable access to life-saving medical technologies and treatments. The new agreement in its current wording will have potentially negative effects on the future global health crisis.
More importantly, at the request of the United States, China was not allowed to benefit from the waiver due to specific language used in the agreement. Health advocates have expressed concern over the exclusion of an increasingly important global health player in vaccine production from the new deal. More worryingly, the new agreement prohibits the re-export of vaccines except for humanitarian purposes. This seems to further limit the scope of the original proposal.
More importantly, the new agreement postpones discussions on Covid-related treatments and technologies to a six-month timeline. As with the new agreement, it is unlikely that this deadline will be met given the slow functioning of the WTO. Unless a broader waiver of the TRIPS Agreement is agreed, as envisioned in the original October 2020 proposal, much of humanity will remain without affordable vaccines, treatments and diagnostics. Now that the issue of the TRIPS waiver has forced itself into the consciousness of the world, the campaign and concerted efforts must continue to achieve the desired goal of full waiver for future pandemics.
Posted in Dawn, November 13, 2022