The European Union has again blocked the India-South Africa proposal at the WTO for a temporary patent waiver on vaccines, medicines and medical devices required to fight the deadly Covid-19 pandemic and countered the move with its own watered-down proposal on the issue.
At a meeting of the TRIPS (Trade related intellectual property rights) Council of the WTO this week there was a clear split between the developing countries supporting the India-South Africa proposal and the developed countries opposed to it. The US, UK, Japan and Switzerland have aligned with the European Union on the issue while as many as 60 developing countries have backed India’s stand.
India and South Africa had wanted the patent waiver proposal to be the starting point of the negotiations. This is in tune with the WHO’s view that it is essential to contain the spread of Covid-19 the poor countries too if the world has to win the war against the deadly pandemic. The WHO has pointed out that the world is confronted with a “dire situation” as the vaccine stocks for the poor nations are down to zero and they have not even inoculated 1% of their population.
The European Union has stuck to its stand that the existing TRIPS agreement is sufficient to deal with the situation as it has a compulsory licensing provision to meet emergency needs. This provision, however, effectively limits the benefits of compulsory licensing only to member countries that have adequate manufacturing capacity and is very cumbersome to implement in practice.
Commerce and industry minister Piyush Goyal on Wednesday criticised the EU’s decision to not support the India-South Africa proposal on waiving intellectual property rights at the World Trade Organisation as “myopic” since it does not take into account the steps required worldwide to control the pandemic. He also lambasted Big Pharma for “counting their dollars” during the pandemic.
“Sadly, the European countries are not supporting the move on the temporary patent waiver. Until all of us are vaccinated and until everyone in the world gets the benefit of modern technology, even the developed world will not be safe,” he pointed out.
“The developed countries have to make a choice on whether the profits of big pharmaceutical companies are important or saving lives all over the world including their own countries is important,” the minister said.