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Rich countries stay bull-headed at WTO –refuse to lift waiver on Covid 19 drugs and equipment

WTO's 12 Ministerial Conference underway

Even after almost two years, the developed nations are stubbornly sticking to their ground of not allowing to lift the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights.(TRIPS) patent rules pertaining to Covid drugs and other diagnostic equipment, much to the shock of the Global South. The Covid 19 menace is far from being over and is continuing to pose severe challenges to several parts of the world.

The World Trade Organisation (WTO) Secretariat at the 12th Ministerial Conference is now looking at framing a mechanism that would allow temporary lifting of patents only for Covid 19 vaccines.

According to AFP, the first ministerial meeting since December 2017 is however scrambling with the “wording of a text” that would facilitate the move.

India and South Africa have been demanding lifting of patents to ensure an equitable distribution of Covid vaccines, drugs and other medical equipment. In October 2020, the two countries framed a proposal to lift the intellectual property guidelines on Covid 19 related vaccines, drugs and other test equipment.

Piyush Goyal, Commerce and Industry Minister, said that the Covid pandemic would not be complete without a TRIPS waiver.

“For the past year and a half, South Africa and India and 63 co-sponsors of the waiver proposal had urged the WTO membership to adopt the trips waiver proposal for ramping up production of vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics to comprehensively combat the COVID 19 pandemic, by enhancing supply and ensuring equitable and affordable access regrettably though the discussions reached a deadlock in the TRIPS Council,” the minister said.

Big Pharma and certain advanced economies have been vehemently opposing lifting of patents since the start. Earlier, the rich nations’ vaccine protectionism posed challenge for the developing and the poorer nations.

“This is shameful, it exposes the WTO order and how the framework is twisted to suit a few countries that are rich and developed. This is a wake-up call for us and goes on to show that we cannot and should not trust the West,” Swadeshi Jagran Manch national co-convenor Ashwani Mahajan told India Narrative.

Mahajan in his blog also noted that the stand adopted by the developed countries like EU, UK, US and Switzerland is “unfortunate” and that the WTO Secretariat worked together to make the waiver proposal limited to vaccines and that too limited to export of vaccine only and that too, unworkable, being loaded with so many conditions.

Meanwhile, WTO Director General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala on Monday said that the world, which is staring at multiple crises such as the pandemic, food shortage, climate change and regional conflicts needs to work together to address these issues.,

"No one country can solve these crises on its own, this is a time that you need the world to work together," she said.

Also read: Covid hit Africa yearns for Indian medicines and vaccines

Piyush Goyal urges G20 ministers to back India’s patent waiver proposal to win war against Covid-19