WTO members agree talks on Covid drug and vaccine patent exemption

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WTO members agree talks on Covid drug and vaccine patent exemption


NEW DELHI: In a significant advance, members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) on Wednesday agreed to start discussions on patent exemptions for Covid-related vaccines, drugs and devices, amid signs that talks will accelerate.
At a meeting of a key WTO panel looking at the issue, India suggested that detailed deliberations begin next week, with the intention of closing a deal by the end of July, the sources said.
Although the European Union, the United Kingdom and Switzerland reiterated their opposition, they agreed to join the text-based talks, for which a draft has been shared.
Brazil, Australia, Canada and several other naysayers agreed to join the discussions to determine how the waiver of intellectual property rights will be implemented and the time frame for which the flexibility will apply.
There is growing support from countries to ensure vaccines and therapies, sources familiar with the deliberations said.
The Norwegian ambassador to the WTO, Dagfinn Sørli, who chairs the TRIPS Council that will work out the details, acknowledged the lingering differences, although opposition is now limited to a handful of countries.
He suggested that a report be presented to the trade ministers of the WTO countries who will meet next month, setting a kind of informal deadline.
Since the WTO is based on consensus, even one of the 164 member countries can block a decision. The other concern is the coverage of the exemption: will it include only vaccines or will it extend to drugs, therapies and devices, along with raw materials and supplies, as well as technology, to contain and treat the deadly Coronavirus.
While some countries considered a three-year suspension to be too long, the delegation of India stressed that it was temporary and said that proponents, including South Africa and other developing and poor countries, have no intention of continuing the exemption for a period of time. indefinite period or deny benefits to patent holders.
Indeed, the US, which recently agreed to the talks, sparking a mood swing around the world, also suggested steps to accelerate a move toward consensus and proposed that countries could focus on steps that may be necessary. to address the supply and distribution of vaccines. .
India and South Africa had first moved the proposal in October, but had little traction from developed countries. But once the United States joined, as did some others, a detailed plan was laid out late last month, which will now be the basis for negotiations.
Proponents, including Pakistan, Malaysia, Argentina and others, believe that exempting patents and other intellectual property rights along with access to raw materials and technology will help boost drug and vaccine production, given that there is capacity available.
The current rate of production is considered to be too slow and is unlikely to result in a significant portion of the world’s population being vaccinated quickly.
These countries have argued that without proper vaccination, the world economy cannot get back on track and will affect the lives and livelihoods of millions.

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