India, South Africa and other co-sponsors countries that have proposed a deal to boost supplies of life saving drugs and vaccines for covid-19 will soon clarify on the scope and tenure of the proposed waiver through an amended version of the proposal. This is expected to expedite text-based negotiations of the proposal at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) following support by the Biden administration.

“Co-sponsors will soon issue an amended version of their waiver proposal with the objective of moving text-based discussions forward. The amended waiver proposal seeks to further clarify the scope of the proposed waiver while also addressing the period during which it will apply. We believe that this phase of discussion should be concluded as soon as possible given the very serious situation that we still face with COVID-19. Continuous mutations and emergence of new variants of SARS-COV-2 highlight the significant uncertainties and complexities of controlling SARS-COV-2 and underscore the urgency of this proposal. A failure to respond in a timely manner on the waiver proposal undermines the legitimacy and credibility of WTO,” the co-sponsors said in a joint statement.

Cosponsors also confirmed that they will engage in this process with the necessary flexibility to ensure swift outcomes. “Any outcome in these negotiations must respect the wishes and common interests of the majority of members of the WTO,” the joint statement said.

In a submission before the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Council of WTO on 2 October, India and South Africa urged WTO members for a waiver of certain rules of the TRIPS pact. They said this would ensure intellectual property (IP) rights such as patents, copyright and protection of undisclosed information do not create barriers to timely access to affordable vaccines and medicines or to scaling up research, development, manufacturing, and supply of medical products essential to combat covid. The proposal has been discussed many times at the TRIPS Council, but members are yet to reach a consensus on a text-based negotiation. Developed countries or blocs, including the US, EU, UK, Canada, Japan, Australia and Switzerland opposed the proposal, which has been co-sponsored by more than 100 countries, including the African Group and the Least Developed Countries Group.

However, in a surprise turn of events, the US backed the proposal earlier this month followed by France and European Union.

US Trade Representative Katherine Tai had said the Biden administration supports the proposal and will actively participate in text-based negotiations at WTO needed to make that happen. “Those negotiations will take time, given the consensus-based nature of the institution and the complexity of the issues involved,” she said.

Meanwhile, US president Joe Biden on Tuesday tweeted: “America will never be fully safe while this pandemic is raging globally. That’s why today, I’m announcing that over the next six weeks we will send 80 million vaccine doses overseas. It is the right thing to do. It is the smart thing to do. It is the strong thing to do.”

Responding to Biden’s tweet, World Health Organisation chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan said: “This is really good news for many countries. US can also facilitate mRNA technology transfer to more manufacturers to scale vaccine supplies for #COVAX.”

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