BRICS Backs Talks for COVID-19 Vaccine Patent Waiver in WTO

This was agreed to at a virtual  meeting of BRICS foreign ministers chaired by the Indian external affairs minister on Tuesday.

New Delhi: The bloc of five emerging countries collectively known as BRICS has expressed support for World Trade Organisation (WTO) negotiations for a proposed intellectual property waiver for COVID-19 vaccines and called for operationalisation of joint vaccine research and development centres.

This was agreed to at a virtual  meeting of BRICS foreign ministers chaired by the Indian external affairs minister on Tuesday.

Two members of the bloc, India and South Africa, had together submitted the proposal last year for temporary waiver of patents on COVID-19 vaccines to allow for better access to all parts of the world.

However, the proposal gathered dust, as all amendments in the WTO related to intellectual property rights have to be made through a consensus. The main opposition was from the US, EU, Switzerland, UK, Norway – and Brazil, a BRICS member state. Russia and China, the other two BRICS members, have already supported the removal of the waiver.

There is a new momentum behind the proposal after the US administration under Joe Biden reversed its stance last month. However, the EU has still not budged on its opposition, even though it said that it was ready for talks.

Brazil had said after the US change of position that it would help in “ongoing negotiations” for changing the patent rules in the TRIPS agreement.

But, Brasilia had indicated that it would support the ‘middle path’ being advocated by the WTO director general. “In particular, it could facilitate the implementation of the ‘third way’ proposals, which aim to increase and diversify the production and dissemination of vaccines, mainly in developing countries, with better use of idle capacity,” three Brazilian ministries said on May 7.

About three weeks later, Brazil joined four other countries to say that it will back negotiations over the proposal in the WTO, but the joint statement doesn’t mention an explicit backing of the waiver.

“The Ministers reaffirmed the need to use all relevant measures during the pandemic, including supporting ongoing consideration in WTO on a Covid-19 vaccine Intellectual Property Rights waiver and the use of flexibilities of the TRIPS agreement and the Doha Declaration on TRIPS Agreement and Public Health,” said the joint statement released after the BRICS meeting.

Watch: ‘Waiving IP Rights Is Fine but Vaccine Can’t Be Copied Without Tech, Manufacturing Secrets’

It added that the five foreign ministers also reiterated the “need for sharing of vaccine doses, transfer of technology, development of local production capacities and supply chains for medical products, promotion of price transparency and called for exercise of due restraint in the implementation of measures that could hinder the flow of vaccines, health products and essential inputs”.

A press release added that the ministers called for “timely establishment and effective operationalization of the BRICS Vaccine Research and Development Centre”.

They also stressed that further work was needed on the proposal for an integrated BRICS Early Warning System for Preventing Mass Infectious Diseases Risks that was “consistent with International Health Regulations in line with previous Leaders’ Declarations”.

This time, two documents were released after the meeting – a media statement and a separate joint statement on “strengthening and reforming the multilateral system”.

In the joint statement, they agreed on six principles that should guide the reforms of the multilateral system.

Further, the five countries affirmed that the UN Security Council was the sole authority for imposing sanctions.

Sources highlighted that the statement called for strengthening of the working methods of UNSC sanctions committee to “ensure their effectiveness, responsiveness and transparency”. The sanctions committee in the UNSC have been politically important for India as it supervises the inclusion of Pakistan-based terror groups and individuals into the UN sanctions regime.

There was, however, no indication of any support for candidature of India, Brazil or South Africa for a permanent seat in an expanded Security Council.