The Least Developed Countries’ (LDCs) request to extend the transition period of Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) didn't get full support from the members of the World Trade Organization (WTO)
Chad, on behalf of the LDC Group, placed a formal request at the meeting of the Council for TRIPS on October 16 in Geneva to extend the transition period for further 12 years. The current transitional period ends on July 1, 2021.
The general transitional period is basically an exemption or waiver for the LDCs to apply the provisions of the TRIPS Agreement as these countries are not adequately capable to comply with the most of the obligations of a multilateral agreement on intellectual property (IP) right.
“Article 66.1 of the TRIPS Agreement accorded least developed country Members a ten-year exemption from most obligations under the TRIPS Agreement in view of the special needs and requirements of the least developed country Members, their economic, financial and administrative constraints and their need for flexibility to create a viable technological base,” said the written request placed by Chand.
This exemption has been previously extended on two occasions. On November 29, 2005, a TRIPS Council decision extended this general transition period until July 1, 2013. Later on June 11, 2013, the Council renewed the transition period until July 1, 2021.
In the request, Chand argued that LDCs continue to face serious economic, financial and administrative constraints and are still struggling with various challenges to uplift the socio-economic conditions with very limited capacities.
“Such a situation is restricting them to divert resources from other areas, where there is utmost necessity to improve the socio-economic condition of their people,” the written request added.
“The COVID19 pandemic has further exacerbated the situation in those countries,” it continued.
“In order to build a sound and viable technological base, all LDCs, including graduating LDCs, would need a further extension of the transition period with maximum flexibility,” it argued.
Supporting the LDCs’ ‘duly motivated request’ in the meeting, Bangladesh said that developing countries, particularly the LDCs, are disproportionately affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. So, WTO members must address this diversity in terms of the impact of the pandemic and the delegation of Bangladesh requested a ‘favourable consideration’ of the proposal and the submission.
The United States said that its delegation is currently studying the proposal, and it looks forward to further engagement on the issue, according to a trade official working in Geneva.
The European Union (EU) supported the extension of the transitional period, under Article-66 paragraph-1 on the TRIPS agreement while India supported the ‘extinction of the waiver,’ the trade official added.
Presented as an observer in the meeting, World Health Organization (WHO) strongly encouraged WTO members to support the extension request by Chad on behalf of the LDC group.
The LDC-specific proposal was discussed beside the proposal ‘for a temporary waiver of certain TRIPS obligations in order to facilitate an appropriate response to Covid-19’ jointly placed by India and South Africa. Kenya and Eswatini co-sponsored the proposal which asked to recommend to the General Council a waiver for all WTO members ‘as early as possible.’
Developed country members, however, opposed the waiver and questioned its relevance and usefulness, according to the trade official in Geneva.
The official press statement of the meeting, released by the WTO on October 20, said: “While a number of developing and least developed country members welcomed the proposal as a contribution to the discussion, many were still studying it in their capitals and asked for clarification on certain points, particularly regarding its practical implementation and the possible economic and legal impact of the waiver at the national level.”
“A number of developing and developed country members opposed the waiver proposal, noting that there is no indication that intellectual property rights (IPRs) have been a genuine barrier to accessing COVID-19 related medicines and technologies,” it added.
[Full press statement is available at https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news20_e/trip_20oct20_e.htm]