The World Trade Organization (WTO) has come under serious pressure to consider the waiver of Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) on COVID-19 vaccines after several European Union (EU) lawmakers and a group of least developed countries (LDC) recently lent their support to India and South Africa’s proposal.
TRIPS, which came into effect in January 1995, is an international legal agreement between all the member nations of the WTO. It establishes minimum standards for the regulation of different forms of intellectual property (IP) among WTO member nations. It covers copyrights, trademarks, geographical indications, industrial designs, patents, layout designs for integrated circuits and trade secrets.
If granted, the waiver could mean a global sharing of technology and know-how to ensure rapid responses for the handling of COVID-19 on a real time basis without violating the international patents laws.
The call reportedly comes a day before a meeting of the European Council scheduled on 25 February, and the crucial decision to be made by all Member States at the WTO General Council on 1 and 2 March.
According to reports, a group of lawmakers from the America’s Democratic Party also want the country’s President Joe Biden to support the TRIPS waiver proposal. So far, around 90 countries have broadly supported the TRIPS waiver proposal at the WTO.
Rich nations are against TRIPS waiver
Wealthy countries like the US and Britain as well as the EU are against the proposal to waive TRIPS. They say that a ban would reduce innovation at pharmaceutical companies by robbing them of the incentive to make huge investments in research and development. This would have a negative impact during the current pandemic which needs the drugmakers to remain on their toes to deal with a mutating virus, they argue.
Spearheaded by India and South Africa
India, which is often described as ‘World Pharmacy’ is supplying vaccines to more than 70 countries on a humanitarian and commercial basis, is spearheading the move along with South Africa to get a TRIPS waiver at the WTO.
If they succeed in getting the proposed waiver of the agreement on TRIPS, it will reduce the cost of vaccines substantially and enable free flow of medicines and easy technology transfer across the world. However, the road to getting the proposal cleared is not easy as many western countries are opposing the move.