Patent waiver: India, US seek to rope in others

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NEW DELHI: India and the US on Friday discussed a strategy to push for patent waiver for Covid vaccines at the World Trade Organization (WTO), with Washington expected to reach out to some of the naysayers to rally for support to the proposal that has been endorsed by over 125 members of the multilateral body.
During a call with US Trade Representative Katherine Tai, commerce and industry minister Piyush Goyal also flagged the need to keep the supply chain open for vaccine manufacturers — an issue that seems to have been addressed after PM Narendra Modi’s discussion with US President Joe Biden. “Both sides agreed to work towards the common resolve of increasing vaccine availability and saving lives,” an official statement said.

Tai’s interaction with Goyal came a day after a similar dialogue with South African trade minister Ebrahim Patel. Last October, India and South Africa had jointly moved the proposal for flexibility under TRIPS to enable production of vaccines that are patented. Along with patent waiver, technology transfer and assistance are key ingredients for the plan to succeed.
Although some other trade-related issues also cropped up during Goyal’s call — with India pointing to moves for free trade agreements with the UK and the EU — the main focus was on vaccines, sources said. “The US will be working with some of the countries that have not yet endorsed the proposal,” said a government source. Separately, the Modi government is also reaching out to its trade partners and is hopeful that the PM’s pitch at the EU summit will help convince some of the members of the trading bloc.
Countries such as Germany and Spain have not endorsed the plan yet with even the UK being among those who are opposed to diluting the TRIPS Agreement.
Even the US has offered limited backing, which is confined to relaxations for talks on vaccine manufacturing as opposed to India and South Africa’s demand to extend the facility to Covid drugs and diagnostic kits. The government is, however, keen to pursue the entire strategy instead of limiting itself to vaccines.
Sources said that a revised proposal will be presented to WTO later this month with India and the other developing countries keen on a solution by July. “I am hopeful that in an early timeframe, some decision will be reached at the WTO,” commerce secretary Anup Wadhawantold reporters, adding that the move will help scale up production of vaccines and other essential Covid-related products.

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