No consensus on WTO rights waiver on drugs

Monday December 21 2020

Healthcare workers in the US receive Covid-19 vaccinations on December 16, in Oregon. The US is against a proposal to waive IP rights on coronavirus pharmaceuticals. PHOTO | AFP


The World Trade Organisation has delayed a decision on a proposal to waive Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) for Covid-19 drugs and vaccines, as South Africa and India made their presentations for the suspension .

The US retains its position that WTO members should be more concerned about the pandemic creating an increase in counterfeit health and safety-related products.

South Africa said bilateral procurement deals, such as those negotiated by the EU, the UK and the US are reinforcing “vaccine apartheid” to the less developed countries.

“Ad hoc, non-transparent and unaccountable bilateral deals that artificially limit supply and competition cannot reliably deliver access during a global pandemic,” South African delegate Mustaqeem Da Gama said.

The country was presenting its proposal on December 10, at a formal WTO meeting. The Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Council met to discuss a waiver from certain provisions of the agreement for the prevention, containment and treatment of Covid-19.

However, the meeting ended without consensus. The TRIPS Council chair, Xolelwa Mlumbi-Peter from South Africa, urged WTO members to find “common ground”.


Mr Da Gama said: “If what the EU, the US and Japan are suggesting, namely that the IP system is responsible for delivery of vaccines in record time, it would fly in the face of the heroic efforts of ordinary people, researchers, scientists and government support and funding to enable this monumental feat.”

South Africa asked the EU to provide more details on their support of voluntary measures, including the pooling of intellectual property.

In its presentation, India said the proposal “is targeted and proportionate as it seeks waiver for a limited time from four specific sections of the Trips agreement, namely patents, copyrights, industrial designs and undisclosed information, in so far as they hinder the production of health products and technologies, for prevention and treatment of the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Tanzania, on behalf of the Africa Group, said the TRIPS Agreement has to ensure WTO member states are not prevented from obtaining the vaccine, or treatment of Covid-19.

Big Pharma rejected the proposal by India and South Africa that would grant compulsory licensing of the vaccines and drugs by overriding patent rules of the TRIPS Agreement, allowing generics to be manufactured.

The General Council was expected to meet on December 16-17. The waiver proposal will be discussed in March 2021.