Piyush Goyal calls for timely, equitable availability of COVID-19 vaccines

Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal on Tuesday called upon the global community to ensure timely and equitable availability of vaccines and medicines for COVID-19 in sufficient quantities and at affordable prices. 

Speaking at a virtual informal meeting of World Trade Organization (WTO) members, he said India and South Africa have proposed relaxing certain provisions in the intellectual property (IP) agreement of the WTO to address the challenges that countries with limited manufacturing capacity will face in accessing these medical supplies.

He called upon all members to support the proposal in order to arrive at a decision on it by the 12th ministerial conference of the WTO, if not earlier.

The minister “has called upon the global community to ensure timely and equitable availability of vaccines and medicines for COVID-19, in sufficient quantities and at affordable prices,” an official statement said.

Earlier this month, India and South Africa submitted a proposal suggesting a waiver for all WTO members on the implementation, application and enforcement of certain provisions of the TRIPS Agreement in relation to the prevention, containment or treatment of COVID-19.

The Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights or TRIPS Agreement came into effect in January 1995. It is a multilateral agreement on intellectual property rights such as copyright, industrial designs, patents and protection of undisclosed information or trade secrets.

Goyal also said the need of the hour is to take effective measures to address the immediate challenges, and prepare a long-term roadmap on how to reform an ailing and imbalanced global trading system.

He added that the pandemic has highlighted the need for easier cross-border movement of healthcare professionals.

A multilateral initiative that provides for easier access to medical services needs to be launched immediately and “we should aim to deliver this outcome by the 12th ministerial conference ,” he said.

On the issue of ongoing fisheries subsidy negotiations, the minister stated that the deliberations should address the problem of industrial fishing by some nations that has led to a major depletion in the global fish stock.

“Members, who have provided and continue to provide large subsidies, must make the highest contributions in line with the ”Polluter Pays” principle.

“We should not repeat the mistakes made during the Uruguay Round negotiations, that allowed unequal and trade-distorting entitlements for select members, while unfairly constraining the less developed member countries who did not have the capacity to support their farmers at that point of time,” he asserted.

Further, Goyal said India will not accept any attempts to restrict the flexibility and policy space that developing countries need to better integrate with the global trading system. 

“In fact, we should open more opportunities for the less developed and developing countries, taking into account the contrasting levels of prosperity, unequal levels of economic development and vast disparity in human development indicators amongst nations, so that global trade is fair and sustainable,” the minister said. 

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