India seeks support for patent-free Covid vaccines

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

India and South Africa placed the proposal before the WTO as western nations moved to buy as many Covid-19 vaccines as possible

Representative image. Credit: AFP.

India on Tuesday called upon China, Russia and Brazil to support the proposal it placed before the World Trade Organization (WTO) along with South Africa seeking exemption for Covid-19 drugs and vaccines from patent protections.

With the issue likely to come up during a meeting of the WTO’s TRIPS (Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) Council on Friday, and the United States and the European Union reluctant to support the proposal, New Delhi turned to Beijing, Moscow and Brasilia.

China, too, proposed cooperation with India and South Africa on clinical trial and distribution of the Covid-19 vaccines developed by its companies.

“India and South Africa have presented a proposal for granting exemption to Covid-19 diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines from the protections of the agreements on intellectual property rights,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, participating in the virtual summit of the BRICS. “We hope that other BRICS nations will also support it.”

The five-nation BRICS – comprising Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – had its annual summit through video-links on Tuesday.

Russian President Vladimir Putin chaired the virtual meeting.

Modi reiterated during the summit that India’s vaccine production and delivery capacity would be put to use to help the entire humanity in fighting this Covid-19 crisis.

“Chinese companies are working with their Russian and Brazilian partners on phase-III clinical trials of vaccines, and we are prepared to cooperate with South Africa and India as well,” Chinese President Xi Jinping said, participating in the BRICS summit.

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.

“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.”

India and South Africa placed the proposal before the WTO as the US and other wealthy western nations made moves to clinch deals with pharmaceutical companies to buy as many Covid-19 vaccines as they would be able to produce till the end of 2021.

They are likely to argue 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 will seek the waiver to continue until widespread vaccination would be in place globally, and the majority of the population of the world would develop immunity.