India is set to push for a waiver for COVID-19 medicines and drugs at the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) mini-ministerial meeting. An official said the meeting will discuss the WTO response both to the current pandemic and future ones. This will ensure that multilateral trade rules, including the intellectual property system, support international efforts to combat health crises.
With the support of 64 WTO countries, India and South Africa want the TRIPS waiver proposal to be part of the pandemic response. This has been widely supported by more than 100 countries and UN agencies, international organizations, civil society organizations and community leaders. But the European Union has been blocking it. New Delhi says any WTO response to pandemics without the waiver will not be credible.
India has been very much keen for a global pandemic response system that would map manufacturing capacities and demand of medicines and medical equipment, and allow special visas or permits for healthcare professionals. The Indian government has also suggested the WTO to consider an escape clause for countries, relying on flexibilities in trade agreements to avoid disputes while tackling the pandemic and its like in the future.
It is recommended for a pool of goods such as oxygen concentrators, essential medicines and oximeters, and services through temporary measures. This would involve special permits for a short duration supply of healthcare professionals for four to eight weeks, both physically or remotely, to address acute shortages could be created.
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the Director-General WTO, called for urgent action towards a comprehensive WTO outcome on pandemic response. She said members will also make their statements on an agreement on harmful fisheries subsidies. Members have also been invited to talk on mapping the future WTO work and objectives in respect of multilateral agriculture negotiations and reform of the organization’s negotiating function.