The momentum in favour of the waiver that will expedite global vaccine production gained ground with the unanimous support of all foreign ministers who attended the summit that was chaired by India.
One of the biggest outcomes of the latest meeting of foreign ministers of BRICS nations was its unstinted support for waiver of TRIPS agreement for Covid-19 related tools, technologies, medicines and most importantly vaccines.
A joint statement after the virtual meeting stressed the need for sharing vaccines with transfer of technology--a key area which is being opposed by some developed countries.
“The Ministers stressed the need to promote initiatives aimed at ensuring timely, affordable, and equitable access to, as well as the distribution of diagnostics, therapeutics, medicines and vaccines, and essential health products and technologies, and their components, as well as equipment to combat COVID-19 pandemic and to support the achievement of universal health coverage including preventive measures and actions,” the statement read. “The Ministers reaffirmed the need to use all relevant measures during the pandemic, including supporting ongoing consideration in WTO on a Covid-19 vaccine Intellectual Property Rights waiver and the use of flexibilities of the TRIPS agreement and the Doha Declaration on TRIPS Agreement and Public Health. They also reiterated the need for sharing of vaccine doses, transfer of technology, development of local production capacities and supply chains for medical products, promotion of price transparency and called for exercise of due restraint in the implementation of measures that could hinder the flow of vaccines, health products and essential inputs.”
TRIPS--a multilateral agreement on intellectual property (IP) rights such as copyright, industrial designs, patents and protection of undisclosed information or trade secrets, came into effect in January 1995. It allows countries to negotiate compulsory licences by each WTO member country and for each patent or other protection applying to each individual product.
As the inequity on vaccines has widened around the world--with developed countries cornering the lion’s share of production and supplies at the cost of developing nations, India and South Africa have been at the forefront in demanding a temporary suspension of TRIPS agreement. They had together submitted a formal proposal for a waiver in WTO last October. Doing away with patents associated with Covid vaccines could see a quick ramp up of production thereby improving their access to all parts of the world. It would also lower costs. But big pharma companies stand to lose billions of dollars in this as they would be denied the spoils of the risk and return on R&D that they have spent.
In the WTO, India has made a forceful argument that at the cost of protecting vaccine makers’ business worth just $30-40 billion, global economic output could be dented by trillions of dollars if the world is not vaccinated quickly.
“If we fail in the next one or two quarters by not delivering on the TRIPS waiver, let me tell you we will not just fail on the question of equity, we are coming in the way of global growth and livelihoods. It is not only that we are coming in the way of life,” India’s ambassador to the WTO Brajendra Navnit had asserted in February this year.
“It’s very simple economics. For a commercial business of $30-40 billion of annual vaccine output of a few companies, we are coming in the way of $6-7 trillion of global GDP output in one year. It doesn’t make any sense — to give $1.5 trillion worth of fiscal stimulus on one side, and not to be willing to design a remuneration for the IP rights holder and expand the manufacturing by just putting in $30-40 billion in the bucket,” he added.
"China fully understands and is supportive of the developing world's demand for an IPR waiver for COVID-19 vaccines", Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said in May. "As the largest developing country and a responsible member of the international community, China will do all things that are conducive to developing countries'' fight against the virus and support all actions that can help developing countries acquire vaccines in an equitable way."
The proposal is now backed by 58 sponsoring governments, and around 100 countries overall. Clinching the support of the Biden administration in the US was another big victory last month. With ipr waiver vaccine it brings to the fold--Brazil, which was so far non committal and content with walking the middle path.
Even with the progress, the waiver will still take time as EU has not budged from its opposition. Yet, even they have somewhat softened their stand with a willingness for talks on this matter. As more countries come out in support, the pressure to relent will only build.
Spearheaded by India and South Africa, it will be a major diplomatic success.