Expressing concerns over the way some developed countries are nitpicking on the proposal of patent waiver to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic under the aegis of the WTO, India on Tuesday said nations that are supporting the proposal are getting a completely "half-baked" deal and that will not allow them to take any vaccines.
In October 2020, India and South Africa had submitted the first proposal, suggesting a waiver for all WTO members on the implementation of certain provisions of the TRIPS agreement in relation to the prevention, containment, or treatment of Covid. In May 2021, a revised proposal was submitted by 62 co-sponsors, including India, South Africa, and Indonesia.
The agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights or TRIPs came into effect in January 1995. It is a multilateral agreement on Intellectual Property (IP) rights such as copyright, industrial designs, patents, and the protection of undisclosed information or trade secrets. Waiver of provisions related to these rights will help promote the manufacturing of vaccines, therapeutics, and other equipment as part of efforts to contain COVID-19.
Certain developed countries like the UK and Switzerland have opposed the proposal. According to some rich nations, the TRIPS agreement has in-built flexibilities such as Compulsory License (CL) and voluntary licensing to deal with the situation. However, India's stance is that these flexibilities are not sufficient to deal with the situation, and the issuance of a CL is a long drawn process.
Addressing a meeting with co-sponsors of the TRIPS waiver proposal, commerce and industry minister Piyush Goyal said that the way nitpicking is being done by some countries, it only reflects their insincerity.
"My own feeling is that there is not a single factory. Not one will ever come up with the agreement that we are finally trying to negotiate and which may get approved," he added.
"The fights over small commas, full stops, one word here or there seem to suggest that this will continue through five years," Goyal said, adding going by the current language, even if anybody wants to try to take the benefit from this agreement will get "frustrated".
He said that the mention of five years will not help as it takes time to get an investor, raise funds, get equipment, and set up a manufacturing facility for vaccines.
"Today in India, we have vaccines which are expiring, we have a capacity of vaccines which are idling and therefore investors will not be easy to come by for this …our hope and desire was that this will be the beginning and in six months, they will decide on therapeutics and diagnostics," he added.
Talking about his bilateral meetings with some developed countries who are opposing the proposal, he said they have almost clearly hinted and indicated that IP rights are extremely important but on diagnostics and therapeutics, "there is no way we are going to yield".
"So, my own sense is that what we are getting is completely half-baked and it will not allow us to make any vaccines. They have no intentions of allowing therapeutics and diagnostics and if at all they try to say that we are the cause for its collapse, I think we should unanimously speak to the world and tell them that no, ideally, we want a holistic solution including therapeutics and diagnostics," the minister said.
The minister called upon the countries to pitch for a collective and holistic decision and not get conned into accepting a "sub-optimal stage 1, knowing full well that the stage 2 will never happen".