Union Minister Piyush Goyal on Wednesday said that sadly, European countries and many other developed nations are not supporting the proposal of India and South Africa in the WTO on the temporary waiver of patent norms to deal with the COVID-19 crisis. It is “very” unfortunate that some countries still put profit over prudence, the Commerce and Industry Minister said.
In October 2020, India and South Africa had submitted the first proposal suggesting a waiver for all the World Trade Organisation (WTO) members on the implementation of certain provisions of the TRIPS Agreement concerning the prevention, containment or treatment of COVID-19. In May this year, a revised proposal was submitted by 62 co-sponsors, including India, South Africa and Indonesia.
The agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights or TRIPS came into effect in January 1995. It is a multilateral agreement on intellectual property (IP) rights such as copyright, industrial designs, patents and protection of undisclosed information or trade secrets.
“We have tried in the WTO to promote waiver on TRIPS so that vaccines and essential medicines can be available to all in the world. Sadly, the European countries, particularly, and many other developed countries are not supporting that move….Believe me, until all of us are vaccinated, until everybody in the world gets the benefit of modern technology, even the developed world will not be safe,” Goyal said at a webinar of India Global Forum.
The developed countries have to make the choice whether the profits of the pharma companies are important or saving lives all over the world, including in their countries, he added. “I personally believe that its extremely myopic of any country to believe that they are insulated (from the crisis) and they would remain safe even if other parts of the world do not and I think today is not the time, even for the pharma companies to be counting their dollars”, he said, adding today is the time for the world to support each other and work as one family to get rid of this pandemic.
The commerce minister suggested that sharing technology in an organised manner will help promote good manufacturing, otherwise, people would try to reverse engineering and “then you will have a bigger problem on your head of unauthorised vaccines, medicines, and that is more dangerous for the world”. Expressing concern, he said at the time of this pandemic, pharma companies are looking at a profit over the public good.
“It really pains me to hear these kinds of arguments that it (TRIPS waiver) will impact innovation and invention. We have tonnes and tonnes of things to invent, we have a huge amount of profits to be made in the future. But, we first have to get rid of this pandemic, get economies back in shape, otherwise people will lose jobs and lives,” the minister added.
Further, he said that large parts of the world are asking to implement the CoWin app, which is used for conducting vaccination programmes here, because of its success. India is happy to share free of charge, unlike few other countries which are even looking at profits, while the world needs to be saved through the collective efforts of the world, Goyal noted.
Talking about India’s exports, the minister informed that the sector has recorded huge growth and during the April-June quarter, “the exports from India are the highest ever, possibly in India’s history”.
The figures have not yet been released officially. On free trade agreements, he said India has started the dialogue with the European Union on an FTA in goods, services, investment protection agreement and GI (geographical indication) pact.
“But given the nature of the EU, 27 odd countries, it will certainly be a much more long-drawn affair. But, we on our part are extremely keen to speed it up,” Goyal said. India is working towards a greater engagement with countries with which it has a shared ecosystem, that believes in a transparent rule-based trading mechanism and with which India can trust as a partner, he said, adding “we are working very actively with the UK (on a trade pact).