China, Pak back India on patent-free Covid-19 vaccine

China, Pakistan support India's call for patent-free Covid-19 vaccine at WTO; US, EU oppose

The proposal has received widespread support from developing nations, the WHO, and international NGOs

Representative image. Credit: iStock.

Notwithstanding New Delhi’s troubled ties with Beijing and Islamabad, India’s move at the World Trade Organization (WTO) seeking exemption for the Covid-19 drugs and vaccines from patent protections received support from China and Pakistan, but opposed by the United States and European Union.

An informal meeting of the WTO’s TRIPS (Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) Council in Geneva on Friday saw Canada, Australia, Japan, Norway, the United Kingdom, the United States and the European Union strongly opposing the proposal submitted by India and South Africa to temporarily waive the intellectual property rules for the Covid-19 diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines.

The proposal, however, received widespread support from the developing nations and the World Health Organization (WHO), as well as international NGOs like Medicines sans Frontier and Amnesty International.

Read: India seeks support from China, Russia at WTO to exempt Covid-19 drugs, vaccines from patent protection

India’s arch rival Pakistan too joined Kenya, Mozambique and Eswatini to co-sponsor the proposal. China too welcomed the proposal placed by India and South Africa before the WTO, but sought more time to assess legal and economic aspects, particularly on efforts by its own pharma companies for development of Covid-19 vaccines. So did Chile, Ecuador, Mexico, El Salvador, Turkey and Ukraine, sources in New Delhi said.

The TRIPS Council will have another meeting on December 10 and a final decision on the proposal by India and South Africa will be taken by the WTO General Council on December 17. The opposition by the US and the EU and the others, however, already made the fate of the proposal uncertain.

India and South Africa on October 1 last jointly sent a communiqué to the WTO, referring to reports about intellectual property rights hindering or potentially hindering timely provisioning of affordable medical products to the patients.

The proposal by India and South Africa seeks a temporary waiver to be granted to all the WTO members so that they do not have to implement, apply or enforce certain obligations related to Covid-19 products and technologies under Section 1 (copyrights and related rights), 4 (industrial design), 5 (patents) and 7 (protection of undisclosed information) of Part II of the TRIPS Agreement – the global treaty that governs intellectual property rights.

The proponents of the temporary waiver argued during the WTO TRIPS Council’s meeting on Friday that if the developing and poor nations did not get access to the Covid-19 vaccines, the pandemic would continue to wreak havoc in one part of the world, despite being brought under control in another.

They underlined that the waiver proposed would continue only till the time widespread vaccination would be in place globally, and the majority of the population of the world would develop immunity from the SARS-CoV-19.

“Beyond patents, other intellectual property rights may also pose a barrier, with limited options to overcome those barriers. In addition, many countries especially developing countries may face institutional and legal difficulties when using flexibilities available in the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS Agreement),” the two nations noted, adding: “A particular concern for countries with insufficient or no manufacturing capacity are the requirements of Article 31 (of the TRIPS Agreement) and consequently the cumbersome and lengthy process for the import and export of pharmaceutical products.”

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