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Economists & humanitarians urge Prime Minister Modi to reject leaked WTO Covid-19 proposal

Our Bureau, Mumbai
Friday, April 8, 2022, 08:00 Hrs  [IST]

Leading economists and humanitarians have called on India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi to reject a “misleading and ineffectual proposal” leaked from World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiations.

The proposal fails to waive intellectual property rules and would erect new barriers to the global supply of vaccines, treatments and tests, they warn.

The letter has been signed by Professor Srinath Reddy, an advocate for global health equity; Professor Joseph E. Stiglitz, awarded the 2001 Nobel Prize in Economics; Dr Rohinton P. Medhora, president of the Centre for International Governance Innovation in Canada; Professor Imraan Valodia, director of the Southern Centre for Inequality Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa, Professor Mariana Mazzucato, founding director of the University College London Institute for Innovation & Public Purpose and His Grace Archbishop Thabo Makgoba of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa.

They commend the Prime Minister’s leadership on access to the Covid-19 tools “that can facilitate and sustain socio-economic recovery and protect the lives and livelihoods in India and many other developing countries”. But they warn that the proposal, which emerged after European Union officials refused to compromise, represents a step backwards in that battle.

The letter comes in response to a leaked text relating to negotiations between the European Union, United States, South Africa and India over a temporary waiver of the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS) provisions for Covid-19 medical technologies.

A TRIPS waiver is critical for low and middle-income countries to manufacture the vaccines, tests and treatments needed to end the pandemic. The leaked text has not been agreed upon by member countries, according to the WTO director-general.

Signatories warn that the proposal “does not waive the intellectual property barriers necessary to deliver any meaningful access” to vaccines, treatments, or tests and actively “adds new burdensome conditions” on countries using non-voluntary licensing that are worse than the status quo.

They criticize the leaked text for failing to remove other IP barriers beyond patents that “thwart Covid vaccine production, including protection of undisclosed information” and say that this does not meet the leaders’ stated demands for “a comprehensive waiver of all blocking intellectual property barriers.”

The text also covers only Covid-19 vaccines, excluding treatments and diagnostics that are lifesaving, especially where vaccines are in short supply. These tools are a “crucial part of an arsenal to prevent, treat and contain Covid-19”, the letter says.

“A bad deal is worse than no deal”, they say, offering to “strongly support” Modi should he reject the proposal. The proposed text “reflects the interests of multinational pharmaceutical companies in preserving the deadly status quo”, they say, “in contrast to India and South Africa’s inspiring leadership for a meaningful waiver of IP barriers.”

The letter accuses the European Union of upholding a “belligerent blockade of any actual waiver of IP barriers” and the United States of insisting “that the IP waiver it supports be limited to vaccines.”

It comes after more than 130 former world leaders, Nobel laureates, leading scientists, economists, humanitarians, faith leaders, business leaders, trade unionists, and celebrities marked the two-year anniversary of the World Health Organization declaring Covid-19 a pandemic by calling on world leaders to support a comprehensive TRIPS waiver at the World Trade Organization.


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