Prime Minister Narendra Modi today spoke with his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison and sought support for a proposal mooted by India and South Africa at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) for a temporary suspension of IPR rules regarding Covid vaccines to ensure their unhindered production and supply.
Modi spoke about the IPR issue as the two leaders agreed on the need to ensure “affordable and equitable access” to vaccines and medicines to contain the Covid pandemic globally, according to a statement issued by the External Affairs Ministry.
The issue came up during the phone conversation two days after the US expressed its support to such a measure.
Giving some details of the conversation between Modi and Morrison, the External Affairs Ministry said the Indian Prime Minister conveyed his appreciation for the prompt and generous support extended by the government and people of Australia for India’s fight against the second wave of COVID-19.
“The two Leaders agreed on the need to ensure affordable and equitable access to vaccines and medicines for containing COVID globally. Prime Minister sought Australia’s support for the initiative taken at the WTO by India and South Africa to seek a temporary waiver under TRIPS in this context,” it said.
India and South Africa had filed for temporary suspension of IPRs on all the Covid-related technologies on October 2 last year. India had said that the IPR could come in the way to access medicines, vaccines and devices which are being developed to tackle Covid-19.
The proposal remains pending because of lack of consensus at the council for Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) as some member European countries oppose any waiver.
The move, however, got a shot in the arm when US Trade Representative Katherine Tai, in a statement two days back, announced that the Biden-Harris Administration supports waiving the intellectual property protections for COVID-19 vaccines.
“This is a global health crisis, and the extraordinary circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures. The Administration believes strongly in intellectual property protections, but in service of ending this pandemic, supports the waiver of those protections for COVID-19 vaccines,” she said.
“We will actively participate in text-based negotiations at the World Trade Organization (WTO) needed to make that happen. Those negotiations will take time given the consensus-based nature of the institution and the complexity of the issues involved,” Tai added.
“The Administration’s aim is to get as many safe and effective vaccines to as many people as fast as possible. As our vaccine supply for the American people is secured, the Administration will continue to ramp up its efforts – working with the private sector and all possible partners – to expand vaccine manufacturing and distribution. It will also work to increase the raw materials needed to produce those vaccines,” the US Trade Representative said.
Subsequently, some other countries and the European Commission also voiced their support for the initiative.
The World Health Organisation (WHO), which has been advocating such a suspension, hailed the announcement by the US, terming it as a “historic decision” towards ending the pandemic as quickly as possible.
“The White House’s support for the temporary waiving of intellectual property on COVID-19 vaccines reflects the wisdom and moral leadership of the United States to work to end this pandemic. But I am not surprised by this announcement. This is what I expected from the Administration of President Biden,” WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.
“This is a monumental moment in the fight against COVID-19. The commitment by the President of the United States Joe Biden and Ambassador Katherine Tai, the US Trade Representative, to support the waiver of IP protections on vaccines is a powerful example of American leadership to address global health challenges,” said Dr Tedros.
“I commend the United States on its historic decision for vaccine equity and prioritizing the well-being of all people everywhere at a critical time. Now let’s all move together swiftly, in solidarity, building on the ingenuity and commitment of scientists who produced life-saving COVID-19 vaccines.”