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Exclusive | PM Modi to push global patents waiver for vaccines at Quad summit in Washington DC this week

Apart from talks on closer defence ties among Quad countries, Modi is expected to use the rare face-to-face meetings to push the leaders of the US, UK, Japan and Australia to support India’s proposal to waive the patents regime for COVID-19 vaccines to help immunise people in poor countries.

September 21, 2021 / 12:11 PM IST
(Left to right) US President Joe Biden, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Japanese PM Yoshihide Suga and Australian PM Scott Morrison (Original images: Associated Press and Reuters)

(Left to right) US President Joe Biden, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Japanese PM Yoshihide Suga and Australian PM Scott Morrison (Original images: Associated Press and Reuters)


India is expected to push the US, Japan, and Australia for waiving Intellectual Property Rights for vaccines when Prime Minister Narendra Modi meets their leaders on the sidelines of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) summit in Washington DC this week.


Modi’s five-day visit to the US from September 22 will be his first foreign trip in six months. While the first in-person meeting of Quad leaders will focus on security issues, India's agenda also includes a significant amount of vaccine-related and economic issues, sources said.


India wants a quick resolution of the ongoing stalemate at the World Trade Organization (WTO) on the country’s proposal to temporarily suspend global intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers, which has been blocked by rich economies.


Vaccine push


Even after talks gained pace in June, nations have failed to meet the early August deadline on suspending parts of the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement, which is the most comprehensive multilateral agreement on intellectual property.


Suspending several provisions of this agreement, which came into effect on January 1, 1995, will allow countries to overcome the legal challenges posed by patents for timely provisioning of affordable medical products. A massive ramp up in manufacturing is expected as a result, which can finally deliver vaccines to smaller, less-developed countries.


"The PM will aim to secure the support of Quad leaders on the issue and request their urgent help in convincing their allies and trade partners of the need to quickly roll out a global agreement that boosts vaccine availability for all people," a senior official said.


Despite being first introduced in October, 2020, the WTO's powerful TRIPS Council had finally cleared India's proposal for a further debate in June. But since all WTO actions are finally passed only by the full consensus of all member nations, vocal opposition by richer economies such as the European Union, United Kingdom and Switzerland has been a hurdle. The US, which had announced it's backing of the proposal in May, has also dragged its feet.


While vaccination rates have reached nearly 100 percent in most parts of West Europe and North America, it is only 9.7 percent in Africa and lower in large parts of the Middle East, according to the New York Times. India has so far provided 60 crore individual shots to its citizens, but the number of Indians who are fully vaccinated stand at 20 crore, or 22.2 percent of the population.


Packed agenda


While it began as a security mechanism for the Asia-Pacific region, the Quad is fast evolving into a grouping with a much larger focus. Much of this has been driven by non-government voices. Recently, experts from all four Quad nations came together to bat for expanding the agreement to cover economic, technological issues.


As a result, the joint agenda on the summit, which also focuses on 'rebuilding sustainably' after Covid, may also see talks on economic issues, sources said. The fulcrum of the trip will be the first in-person Quad leaders' summit in Washington DC on September 24. On the sidelines, Modi is expected to have bilateral meetings with President Biden of the United States, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihida Suge and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.


"In the PMs independent bilaterals with the Quad leaders, as well as during other meetings between high-level officials, India will raise the issue of companies shifting their global supply chain from China to India," a person close to the developments said. Talks on furthering infrastructure projects in the region will also be discussed, he said.

Modi will be in New York on September 25 for his United Nations General Assembly address. It will be his fourth address to the body, the previous ones being in 2014, 2019 and 2020.

Subhayan Chakraborty has been regularly reporting on international trade, diplomacy and foreign policy, for the past 6 years. He has also extensively covered evolving industry and government issues. He was earlier with Business Standard newspaper.

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