The WTO TRIPS Decision on COVID-19 Vaccines: What is Needed to Implement it?
By Carlos M. Correa and Nirmalya Syam
The 12th WTO Ministerial Conference adopted a Ministerial Decision on the TRIPS Agreement on 17 June 2022. This partially concluded almost two years of protracted discussions in response to a proposal by India and South Africa for a waiver from certain obligations under the TRIPS Agreement for health products and technologies for the prevention, treatment and containment of COVID-19. The adopted Decision only waives the obligation under article 31 (f) of the TRIPS Agreement. Developing country WTO members are now allowed to export any proportion of vaccines, including ingredients and processes, necessary for the COVID-19 pandemic that are manufactured under a compulsory license or government use authorization to other developing countries. It also contains some clarifications of relevant TRIPS provisions, while introducing a number of conditionalities that are not present in the TRIPS Agreement. This paper examines the object and scope of the Decision, the requirements established for its use, and the required actions to be taken by WTO members to implement it.
Lessons From India’s Implementation of Doha Declaration on TRIPS and Public Health
By Nanditta Batra
The major bone of contention between the developed and developing countries in the TRIPS negotiations was patents for pharmaceuticals. The US-led developed countries bloc argued in favour of patents for pharmaceuticals amidst opposition from Brazil, India and other countries. Ample evidence, including patented AZT for HIV/AIDS treatment, showed that patents could make life saving drugs prohibitively expensive. Notwithstanding the effect of patents on access to medicines, Article 27 of the TRIPS Agreement ordained patents for inventions “in all fields of technology”. While the genie was out of the bottle in the form of patents for pharmaceuticals, the developing countries were able to extract some procedural and substantive flexibilities like transition period, parallel importation and compulsory licensing to leverage the IP system to further public health. However, there was uncertainty with respect to the interpretation of TRIPS agreement, scope of the flexibilities and Member States’ rights to use them. It is in this background that the historic Doha Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health assumed importance as it reaffirmed the rights of the Member States to take measures to protect public health, reconciled the interpretative tensions in the text of TRIPS Agreement and clarified the scope of some of the flexibilities and attempts to find solutions to the problems faced by countries that do not have sufficient manufacturing facilities. The Declaration which was initially dismissed by some scholars as “non-binding,” “soft law” has been held by WTO Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) to constitute a “subsequent agreement” which must be followed in interpreting the provisions of TRIPS Agreement (Australia-Tobacco Plain Packaging Case).
A Review of WTO Disputes on TRIPS: Implications for Use of Flexibilities for Public Health
By Nirmalya Syam
The use of TRIPS flexibilities by WTO members involves interpretation of the obligations under TRIPS which can be challenged under the WTO dispute settlement system. Mutually agreed solutions, panel or Appellate Body decisions adopted in such disputes can thus impact the scope of TRIPS flexibilities to address, among others, public health objectives. This paper explores how the WTO dispute settlement system applies to disputes under TRIPS, and reviews the outcomes of the disputes relating to the implementation of TRIPS obligations in the context of pharmaceutical products. The paper points to both systemic and substantive concerns arising from the application of the dispute settlement system to disputes under TRIPS. It finds that the dispute settlement system is not aligned to the unique nature of the TRIPS Agreement in the WTO as an agreement that creates positive obligations, and consequently how jurisprudence arising under disputes concerning other covered agreements having negative obligations, have led panels and Appellate Bodies to adopt narrow interpretations of the scope of TRIPS flexibilities in some of the few disputes arising under the TRIPS Agreement. Moreover, mutually agreed settlements adopted in the context of some of the disputes arising under TRIPS have also led to the adoption of TRIPS plus standards, limiting the scope of TRIPS flexibilities. However, in a recent decision, the WTO panel has also relied on the Doha Declaration on TRIPS and Public Health as a subsequent agreement to guide the interpretation of its provisions. In this context, the paper advances some suggestions to address the systemic and substantive issues arising from the application of the dispute settlement system to the TRIPS Agreement.
WTO reform and the crisis of multilateralism – A Developing Country Perspective
About the Book:
The WTO has not been able to recover since the collapse of the Doha Round in July 2008. Several ministerial conferences including the Buenos Aires meeting in December 2017 failed to reach agreement. The US Trump Administration launched a campaign to reform the WTO in 2018 and 2019. This book argues that the Trump Administration reform proposals have been much more aggressive and far-reaching than the Obama Administration before it, threatening to erode hard-won special and differential treatment rights of developing countries. By blocking the appointment of new Appellate Body members, the US has effectively paralysed the Appellate Body and deepened the crisis of the multilateral trading system. Developing countries have responded to the proposals and called for the WTO to be development-oriented and inclusive. This book provides a critical analysis of the US-led reform proposals and seeks to build a discourse around an alternative set of concepts or principles to guide the multilateral trading system based on fairness, solidarity, social justice, inclusiveness and sustainability.
Author: Faizel Ismail served as the Ambassador Permanent Representative of South Africa to the WTO (2010-2014).
Special Section 301:US Interference with the Design and Implementation of National Patent Laws
By Dr. Carlos M. Correa
The continuous application of Special Section 301 by the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) undermines the rule of law as a fundamental principle of a multilateral system based on the sovereign equality of states and the respect for international law. Interference with foreign countries’ national intellectual property (IP) policies—which have significant socio-economic effects—negates their right to determine independently the level and modalities of protection of such property within the framework and policy space allowed by the international law. This paper examines the patent-related claims made by the USTR in relation to the developing countries on the USTR Priority Watch List. It argues that the regulations and practices identified by the USTR show a legitimate use of the flexibilities provided for by the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), and that the ignorance of the public interests of the countries concerned (for instance, with regard to access to affordable medicines) has contributed to the discredit (and ineffectiveness) of the Special Section 301.
Articles 7 and 8 as the basis for interpretation of the TRIPS Agreement
By Thamara Romero
Articles 7 and 8 of the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) play a central role in assuring the members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) the right to implement public health measures. The Doha Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health is also an important element for the interpretation of any provision of the TRIPS Agreement that may have public health implications. The most recent and prominent example of the use of articles 7 and 8 for interpretation in WTO law can be found in the WTO Panel decision of 2018 on the Australia – Tobacco Plain Packaging dispute.
Non-Violation and Situation Complaints under the TRIPS Agreement: Implications for Developing Countries
By Nirmalya Syam
While the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) provided for the applicability of non-violation and situation complaints to the settlement of disputes in the area of intellectual property (IP), when the World Trade Organization (WTO) agreements were adopted in 1994, a moratorium was put in place until WTO Members could agree on the scope and modalities for the application of such complaints. However, for more than two decades, discussions in the TRIPS Council on the subject have remained inconclusive. The biannual WTO Ministerial Conference has granted extensions of the moratorium with regularity. This paper reviews the debate on the applicability of non-violation and situation complaints under the TRIPS Agreement, including the arguments consistently held by two WTO Members that if the moratorium is not extended by consensus, non-violation and situation complaints would become automatically applicable. This paper argues that a consensus decision by the WTO Ministerial Conference is required to determine the scope and modalities and, hence, the applicability of such complaints under the TRIPS Agreement. Even if the moratorium was not extended, the WTO Ministerial Conference should still adopt a decision calling on the TRIPS Council to continue examination of the scope and modalities of such complaints. It also argues that in the absence of an extension of the moratorium on initiating such complaints—and although they would not be applicable—a situation of uncertainty would be created that may lead to a de facto limitation in the use of flexibilities allowed under the TRIPS Agreement.
US-China trade deal: preliminary analysis of the text from WTO perspective
By Peter Lunenborg
The long-awaited ‘Phase 1’ trade deal between the United States and China, officially termed the ‘Economic and Trade Agreement between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of the People’s Republic of China’, was signed on 15 January 2020. It will enter into force on Valentine’s Day, on Friday, 14 February 2020. This deal is a result of US exercise of political power and unilateral World Trade Organization (WTO)-inconsistent tariffs in order to extract trade concessions, an expression of the most pure protectionism that the WTO is supposed to prevent. Nevertheless, the WTO was unhelpful in addressing the US economic aggression against China. This failure to protect a Member from illegitimate unilateral measures is, perhaps, one of the most significant manifestations of the often-mentioned ‘crisis’ of the WTO, and actually is one of the subjects on which the proposed ‘reform’ of the organization should focus.
Lights Go Out at the WTO’s Appellate Body Despite Concessions Offered to US
By Danish and Aileen Kwa
As of 11 December 2019, the Appellate Body (AB) of the World Trade Organization (WTO) has been rendered non-functional. This policy brief provides a summary of the issues discussed amongst WTO Members in the last two years, in their valiant efforts to address the US’ concerns regarding the AB. The issues include: the use of AB Members’ services to complete an appeal after their term has officially expired; timelines for issuance of AB reports; the meaning of municipal law; advisory opinions; precedence-setting; and overreach by the AB. After much effort by Members in the ‘Walker process’ of negotiations, concessions have been proposed to the US in the draft General Council Decision of 28 November 2019. Language was provided limiting the scope of appeals to questions of law, even though there are situations where the boundary between issues of law and fact are difficult to draw. The text also provides that ‘precedent’ is not created through WTO dispute settlement proceedings. In the area of anti-dumping, the language inserted by the US into the anti-dumping agreement to protect their zeroing practices is confirmed. Nevertheless, the US has rebuffed these offered concessions. It seems determined to amplify its leverage by taking the WTO’s Appellate Body hostage, to extract still more from other Members, including in terms of far-reaching ‘WTO Reforms’.
Crisis at the WTO’s Appellate Body (AB): Why the AB is Important for Developing Members
By Danish and Aileen Kwa
The World Trade Organization (WTO)’s Appellate Body (AB) will be made dysfunctional by 11 December 2019. A disabled AB means that the WTO’s dispute settlement system loses its enforcement mechanism. Even though many smaller developing countries are not major users of the dispute settlement system, nevertheless, they are beneficiaries of the rule of law, and a more predictable trading environment. Several stop-gap measures have been suggested. None are satisfactory. The right to appeal is an important right for all Members which was part of the Uruguay Round package. If this right is removed, why should other parts of that package also not be changed? The future is uncertain – between a much weakened multilateral trading system similar to the days of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT); or deep reform of the WTO, in ways that primarily benefit the US and its partners, whilst foreclosing important policy choices for the developing world.
Access to Medicines: Experiences with Compulsory Licenses and Government Use – The case of Hepatitis C
By Dr. Carlos M. Correa and Dr. Germán Velásquez
This South Centre research paper discusses first, the limitations of the current research and development (R&D) model and its implications for access to medicines. Second, it considers the tension between intellectual property rights applied to medicines and States’ observance of the fundamental right to health. Third, it examines the case of access to medicines for the treatment of Hepatitis C, illustrating the barriers to access created by intellectual property and the high prices normally associated with its exercise. Fourth, it presents the background, main aspects and obstacles to the achievement of the objectives of the Doha Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health (2001). To conclude, this paper examines the experiences of compulsory licensing and government use of patents in Latin America (particularly in Ecuador, Peru and Colombia).
US’ Section 301 Actions: Why They are Illegitimate and Misguided
By Aileen Kwa and Peter Lunenborg
This research paper examines the US’ Section 301 unilateral actions against China, stemming from the US’ concerns over China’s ambitious industrial policies and its rapid technological advancements. It outlines the accusations of the US regarding China’s conditions for technology transfer and what the US sees as overly intrusive Chinese government involvement in investments. It looks in detail at why the US’ actions are in fact illegitimate and misguided. (more…)