Desi Talk

4 VIEWPOINTS January 8, 2021 – that’s all you need to know Science Has Delivered, Will The WTO Deliver? A proposal by India, South Africa and eight other countries calls on theWorld Trade Organisation (WTO) to exempt member countries from enforc- ing some patents, and other Intellectual Property (IP) rights under the organization’s Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, known as TRIPS, for a limited period of time. It is to ensure that IPRs do not restrict the rapid scaling- up of manufacturing of COVID-19 vaccines and treatments. While a few members have raised concerns about the proposal, a large proportion of theWTO membership supports the proposal. It has also received the backing of various international organizations, multilateral agencies and global civil society. Unprecedented times call for unorthodox measures. We saw this in the efficacy of strict lockdowns for a limited period, as a policy intervention, in curtailing the spread of the pandemic. International Monetary Fund (IMF) in its October 2020 edition ofWorld Economic Outlook states “…However, the risk of worse growth outcomes than projected remains sizable. If the virus resurges, progress on treatments and vaccines is slower than anticipated, or countries’ access to them remains unequal, economic activity could be lower than expected, with renewed social distancing and tighter lockdowns”. The situation appears to be grimmer than predicted, we have already lost 7% of economic output from the baseline scenario projected in 2019. It translates to a loss of more than USD 6 trillion of global GDP. Even a 1% im- provement in global GDP from the baseline scenario will add more than USD 800 billion in global output, offset- ting the loss certainly of a much lower order to a sector of economy on account of theWaiver. Merely a signal to ensure timely and affordable access to vaccines and treatments will work as a big confidence booster for demand revival in the economy. With the emergence of successful vaccines, there appears to be some hope on the horizon. But how will these be made accessible and affordable to global population? The fundamental question is whether there will be enough of Covid-19 vaccines to go around. As things stand, even the most optimistic scenarios today cannot assure access to Covid-19 vaccines and therapeutics for the majority of the population, in rich as well as poor countries, by the end of 2021. All the members of theWTO have agreed on one account that there is an urgent need to scale-up the manufacturing capacity for vaccines and therapeutics to meet the massive global needs. The TRIPSWaiver Pro- posal seeks to fulfil this need by ensuring that IP barriers do not come in the way of such scaling up of manufactur- ing capacity. WHY EXISTING FLEXIBILITIES UNDER THE TRIPS AGREEMENT ARE NOT ENOUGH The existing flexibilities under the TRIPS Agreement are not adequate as these were not designed keeping pandemics in mind. Compulsory licenses are issued on a country by country, case by case and product by product basis, where every jurisdiction with an IP regime would have to issue separate compulsory licenses, practically making collaboration among countries extremely oner- ous. While we encourage the use of TRIPS flexibilities, the same are time-consuming and cumbersome to imple- ment. Hence, only their use cannot ensure the timely access of affordable vaccines and treatments. Similarly, we have not seen a very encouraging progress onWHO’s Covid19-Technology Access Pool or the C-TAP initiative, which encourages voluntary contribution of IP, technol- ogy and data to support the global sharing and scale-up of the manufacturing of COVID- 19 medical products. Voluntary Licenses, even where they exist, are shrouded in secrecy. Their terms and conditions are not transpar- ent. Their scope is limited to specific amounts or for a limited subset of countries, thereby encouraging nation- alism rather than true international collaboration. WHY IS THERE A NEED TO GO BEYOND EXISTING GLOBAL COOPERATION INITIATIVES? Global cooperation initiatives such as the COVAX Mechanism and the ACT-Accelerator are inadequate to meet the massive global needs of 7.8 billion people. The ACT-A initiative aims to procure 2 billion doses of vac- cines by the end of next year and distribute them fairly around the world. With a two-dose regime, however, this will only cover 1 billion people. That means that even if ACT-A is fully financed and successful, which is not the case presently, there would not be enough vaccines for the majority of the global population. PAST EXPERIENCE During the initial few months of the current pandemic, we have seen that shelves were emptied by those who had access to masks, PPEs, sanitizers, gloves and other essential Covid-19 items even without their immediate need. The same should not happen to vaccines. Eventu- ally, the world was able to ramp up manufacturing of Covid-19 essentials as there were no IP barriers hindering that. At present, we need the same pooling of IP rights and know-how for scaling up the manufacturing of vac- cines and treatments, which unfortunately has not been forthcoming, necessitating the need for theWaiver. It is the pandemic – an extraordinary, once in a lifetime event – that has mobilized the collaboration of multiple stakeholders. It is knowledge and skills held by scientists, researchers, public health experts and universities that have enabled the cross-country collaborations and enor- mous public funding that has facilitated the development of vaccines in record time – and not alone IP! WAY FORWARD The TRIPS waiver proposal is a targeted and pro- portionate response to the exceptional public health emergency that the world faces today. Such aWaiver is well-within the provisions of Article IX of the Marrakesh Agreement which established theWTO. It can help in ensuring that human lives are not lost for want of a timely and affordable access to vaccines. The adoption of the Waiver will also re-establishWTO’s credibility and show that multilateral trading system continues to be relevant and can deliver in times of a crisis. Now is the time for WTO members to act and adopt theWaiver to save lives and help in getting the economy back on the revival path quickly. While making the vaccines available was a test of sci- ence, making them accessible and affordable is going to be a test of humanity. History should remember us for the “AAA rating” i.e. for Availability, Accessibility and Afford- ability of Covid19 vaccines and treatments and not for a single “A rating” for Availability only. Our future genera- tions deserve nothing less. Brajendra Navnit, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of India to WTO By Brajendra Navnit TRIPS waiver proposal from India, South Africa and other members Biden Will Face Pressure On Immigration, But Trump’s Policies Will Not Be Dismantled Overnight T he moment President Joe Biden takes the oath of office on Jan. 20, he will face an agonizing moral and political dilemma: What to do about Central American migrants desperate to enter the United States. President Donald Trump’s policies at the U.S.-Mexico border, including separating children from their parents, holding them in cages and blocking migrants from enter- ing the country to apply for asylum, became emblem- atic of his administration’s cruelty. Biden unequivocally vowed to reverse them. His campaign promised that he would immediately do away with the Trump administra- tion’s draconian immigration policies. Immigration is an area where foreign and domestic policy overlap and is a matter that just won’t wait. The pressure to come up with sensible solutions will seize Biden by the lapels when Trump leavesWashington. Trump focused much of his presidency on blocking migrants from the United States, particularly across the southern border. The crisis there has been building not only because Trump constructed a regulatory morass for migrants, which has kept tens of thousands waiting in squalid tent cities in Mexico. It has grown even more because 2020 added woes to the already overwhelmingly difficult conditions in the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. As if gang violence, sky-high homicide rates, corrup- tion and lack of jobs were not enough reasons to leave, the past few months brought more biblical-scale suffer- ing: Hunger and unemployment in the region skyrock- eted and threatened to wipe away decades of progress in the fight against poverty across Latin America. The 2020 hurricane season also affected migration. It was so merciless that meteorologists ran out of names for the storms. Natural disasters cut a swath of devastation across the poorest parts of Central America, affecting mil- lions of people and leading experts to predict an impend- ing surge of mass migration. It has already started, with the numbers of people arrested trying to cross the border climbing sharply in recent months. That puts Biden in the position to either reverse Trump’s web of hundreds of anti-immigration executive orders and allow large numbers to enter the country and apply for asylum, or continue enforcing - if only tempo- rarily - some of the policies that much of the world found abhorrent. In the longer term, Biden’s plan sounds promising. He proposes to regain U.S. leadership in a multilater- al effort to solve the problems that cause people to leave their countries. Biden’s plan says the “primary responsi- bility” to curtail emigration rests with regional govern- ments, but the plan also recognizes that the issues are so daunting that they require international assistance. After all, if regional governments are unable to resolve them, the impact reaches the United States. Biden has proposed a $4 billion regional plan, funded by redirecting money allocated for migrant detention in the Department of Homeland Security. Central American governments would have to make “verifiably reforms” to combat corruption, strengthen the rule of law, promote private investment and improve security. These are all areas that the Trump administration neglected. His administration demanded little more than progress in stopping migrants from the governments of impoverished countries, who struggled to convince Washington to reinstate the funding Trump suspended to pressure them. The philosophical contrast between the two admin- istrations could not be starker. Trump came to office warning about “criminals, drug dealers, rapists” coming across the border. Biden, who has visited Latin America more than a dozen times and served as President Barack Obama’s point man on the region, understands how deeply interconnected Central America’s problems are to those of the United States. While Trump viewed migration as harmful to the United States, Biden has described a sense of moral responsibility for the troubles in Central America, many of which have roots reaching the United States: The drug trafficking that has poisoned the region is made possible by the United States’ appetite for drugs. The gangs that terrorize civilians were forged in the jails of Southern California. And most of the weapons used by those who give the area some of the highest homicide rates in the world come from the United States. Biden’s understanding of the problems’ complexity gives his plan a chance to have a lasting impact on im- proving living conditions so that Central Americans will not find it necessary to flee their countries to survive. But until he can start implementing that multistage program, he will have to deal with the immediate reality of what to do the moment he takes office. Moral duty will clash with political imperatives. Biden, as is usual in politics, will have to compromise with his conscience. He probably will prioritize revers- ing some of the most egregious Trump-era immigration and refugee policies, working to reunite children with their families, allowing into the country individuals with the most urgent asylum cases, raising refugee limits - all while grudgingly, temporarily, preserving some of the same policies found so deeply offensive by millions of people who voted for him. -TheWashington Post By Frida Gifith