World Trade Organisation: Future Covid-19 Pandemic Preparedness
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 06 May , 2024

A meetingof Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Councilwas held on 25-26 April whereit was decided that the members of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) will continue to review the lessons learnt from COVID-19 pandemic and also to find effective solutions for any future pandemic eruption.  Members also considered the process of implementation of the TRIPS Agreement to overcome the hurdles which may be confronted during the future Ministerial Conference (MC) held every two years since the formation of WTO in 1995. Sofía Boza Ambassador of Chile was elected as the Chairman of TRIPS Council for the upcoming year.

One of the agenda item of the Council was to change thename of COVID-19pandemic.Members agreed to rename the agenda item from “IP and COVID-19” to “IP, COVID-19 and Pandemic Preparedness”. The aimof changing the name of COVID-19 agenda item is to give due importance to the preparedness of any future pandemic. It was decided in the 13th Ministerial Conference (MC13) at Abu Dhabi to continue the work under paragraph 24 of the agenda on the responseof ‘COVID-19 ‘Pandemic’,  which was adopted at MC12 in June 2022. 

Members also discussed a communication from Bangladesh, Colombia, Egypt and India entitled “TRIPS for Development: Post MC13 Work on TRIPS-Related Issues”, which was circulated to the TRIPS Council and General Council on 8 March 2024. These IP-Related domestic measures weretaken earlier during COVID-19 pandemic like waiver of IP related medicines. 

The WTO Secretariathad compiled the document COVID-19 ‘Measures Regarding TRIPS’ which contains a non-exhaustive list of such measures extracted from the official sources and verified by members. In addition the delegations were encouraged to find more information and measures that could be taken or updated in the document available in the WTO website. These updated measures should be sent to the WTO Secretariat from time to time.

It is mandatory for the TRIPS Council to conduct a review of the implementation of the TRIPS Agreement every two years. Surprisingly, no review has been carried out since 1999. Resultantly, members during the meeting seemed interested in resuming the review in more tangible terms. They were willing to consider possible areas of focus in a first two-year cycle. 

Interestingly, positive feedback had been received from members. The new Council Chair, Ambassador Sofía Boza of Chile, declared that he will hold consultations from time to time to explore the process and potential topics for the review. The aim is to revisit the issue at the next meeting, with a view to making a concrete decision on launching a new review cycle in July 2024.

Delegationsalso swapped views as to how to systematise their work in relation to non-violation and situation complaints (NVSCs). This follows the renewed mandate under the Ministerial Decision of 2 March 2024 to examine the scope and modalities for such complaints under the TRIPS Agreement, and to make recommendations to the 14th WTO Ministerial Conference (MC14) to be held after two years. Until then, members agreed to desist from initiating such complaints under the TRIPS Agreement. NVSCsare allowed if one government can show that it has been deprived of an expected benefit because of another government’s action, or because of any other situation that exists.

Members are in catch 22 situationunder what conditions they should be able to bring WTO dispute settlement issues pertaining to NVSCswhich have deprived them of an expected advantage under the TRIPS Agreement.

Some of the members differed whether such NVSCs cases are feasible in intellectual property. On the one hand some delegations consider NVSCs essential to maintaining the proper balance of rights and obligations within the TRIPS Agreement while helping to ensure that legitimate obligations are not circumvented or avoided. On the other some believe there is no place for the application of NVSCs in the area of IP because of the legal insecurity and curtailment of flexibilities that could ensue and favour their complete ban in the TRIPS area. 

The Council discussed a paper titled “IP awareness and Creators”, submitted by “Friends of IP and Innovation” countries consisting of Australia, Canada, the European Union, Hong Kong China, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Singapore, Switzerland, Chinese Taipei, the United Kingdom and the United States. India is not a member of ‘Friends’ of IP and Innovation’.

The United States introduced the paper which explores some of the IP considerations that may arise for creators, including social media content creators. The main focus is to look at potential difficulties creators may face in protecting their IP rights, and ensure WTO members raise awareness about IP in the creative fields.

The highlights of the document are importance of IP for artists and other creators to protect their unique and valuable contributions to society through their work, film, music and son. However, creators often face many challenges and obstacles when it comes to protecting their IP. These challenges include lack of awareness, resources, legal knowledge, or experience protecting their IP and harnessing its benefits. The paper also notes that the lack of legal knowledge to enforce IP internationally, and in particular copyright, trademarks and patents are also challenging for many creators.

On 25 April, members commemorated 30 years of the TRIPS Agreement. A High-level Dialoguewith the participation of the Directors-General of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Daren Tang and the WTO DG Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala marked this anniversary. 

The event provided the opportunity for representatives from international organizations, non-governmental organizations, academia and the private sector to discuss the impact of the TRIPS Agreement and the future challenges for IP policy at a time of dramatic technological change like ‘Artificial Intelligence’.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Col (Dr) PK Vasudeva

is author of World Trade Organisation: Implications for Indian Economy, Pearson Education and also a former Professor International Trade.

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