The finalised draft of the proposed waiver will be submitted to a key council at the World Trade Organization (WTO), in consensus with nearly 120 countries who have supported the move, either directly or in principle, sources say.
India and South Africa had requested members of the World Trade Organization back in early October 2020, to suspend certain parts of the global Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement.
But the proposal had languished after opposition from rich nations, especially the United States under the previous Donald Trump administration, which said that intellectual property rights of pharma companies are non-negotiable.
After President Joe Biden took over, Moneycontrol was the first to report on April 14 that Washington DC would soon commit to the proposal.
As a result, the timeline on the issue got expedited only after the United States Trade Representative informed the WTO of their country's support, earlier this month.
"But even if a proposal is tabled at the WTO, it isn't accepted until the requisite council under whose jurisdiction it falls, allows it to be put on the record. India's proposal till now had secured 62 official backers but hasn't seen text-based discussions due to stringent opposition by mostly developed nations," a senior Delhi-based trade negotiator said.
Clearing the hurdles
On May 30, the WTO's powerful TRIPS council has called an informal meeting, widely understood to be necessitated by the waiver proposal.
While all WTO-member nations are part of the council, Norwegian Ambassador Dagfinn Sørli is the current Chairperson.
"India plans to submit a revised draft of the proposal before or on that date, so that after some discussions, the council supports it. Then, it'll head to the general assembly where the main negotiations will take place. Hopefully, which is when the EU and Japan will place their cases against it, instead of later dragging it out," an official said.
According to WTO rules, at the TRIPS Council, countries can consult each other on mutual problems or issues related to the TRIPS Agreement. It can also clarify or interpret provisions of the agreement.
While it had been expected earlier that India and South Africa - the original proponents of the waiver - would put up a revised text, the scope of the plan is now facing opposition from the developed bloc led by the European Union, Australia and Japan.
These nations had earlier argued and continue to express that stringent patent protection is not the primary reason why global vaccine distribution has been held back, pointing instead to a lack of supply and logistical challenges due to the sudden spread of the pandemic across disparate geographies.
"However, with the EU having now said that they are open to discussions, the developed bloc have begun to call for a tightening of the overall ambit of the proposal, arguing that it should only apply to vaccines, and not to other medicines and medical equipment," an official aware of the developments said.
As a result, most of the dogfights over the updated text may come down to defining what constitutes 'life saving' and 'crucial for human recuperation from the pandemic', he pointed out.
The nations had pointed out that it would boost the availability of jabs worldwide as vaccines, medicines and testing technology for COVID-19 can be easily shared without falling foul of patent laws.
Coming into effect on January 1, 1995, the TRIPS agreement is till date the most comprehensive multilateral agreement on intellectual property and a core WTO document.
New Delhi had specifically suggested a waiver from the implementation, application, and enforcement of Sections 1, 4, 5, and 7 of Part II of the TRIPS Agreement in relation to prevention, containment, or treatment of COVID-19.
Moneycontrol had earlier reported how the waiver could cut down the end date of the pandemic.
Said a senior Commerce Department official: ``We have said this is not a permanent waiver and that it will be categorically revisited on an annual basis. At informal meetings, India had also assured the EU and the US that we would not seek to extend it once the health implications of the pandemic are reasonably brought under control globally."
Clearly, the waiver, if it goes through, will represent an important victory for India’s trade diplomacy.