The UN General Assembly Resolutions on COVID-19: Solemn Assurances for Access to Health Technologies without an Action Plan
By Nirmalya Syam
The United Nations (UN) has the mandate under the Charter of the United Nations to promote solutions to international health problems, such as the global COVID-19 pandemic. While the UN secretariat, led by the Secretary-General, has undertaken a number of initiatives in response to COVID-19, member State initiatives in the UN has so far been limited to two resolutions adopted by the UN General Assembly. Member States are currently negotiating an omnibus resolution of the General Assembly on COVID-19. This policy brief analyzes the extent to which the General Assembly addresses the issue of timely, equitable and affordable access to health technologies, particularly for developing countries who have greater vulnerability to COVID-19. The adopted resolutions make very broad pledges for global solidarity but lack specific commitments to guide actions by member States. The omnibus resolution currently under negotiation should provide specific guidance to member States on actions to be taken based on the principles of solidarity and multilateral cooperation in diverse aspects impacted by COVID-19.
Equitable Access to COVID-19 Related Health Technologies: A Global Priority
By Dr. Zeleke Temesgen Boru
Since COVID-19 was first identified, infections from the virus and the death toll have spiked abysmally. The pandemic has also paralyzed the economies (particularly, global trade, tourism and transport) of many countries. The dire social and psychological ramifications associated with the pandemic are also immense. The threat posed by COVID-19 on global health and the economic downturn resulting thereof necessitates the development of health technologies (such as medicines and vaccines). A global effort to invent new health technologies or the likely application of existing technologies is also underway since the outbreak of the pandemic. Even though the race to develop these technologies can be hailed as a pivotal undertaking, the development of health technologies alone may not expedite equitable access to the outcome of such development. Particularly, the lack of access to health technologies may befall if the conventional model of health technology pricing, which is derived from monopoly rights created by IP protection, is set. However, legal as well as policy tools can be used to overcome such hurdles and ensure global access to health technologies. In this sense, this paper discusses plausible legal and policy options that can help to accelerate access to health technologies targeting COVID-19.
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.
Message from the South Centre at the launch of the “Solidarity Call To Action” by the President of Costa Rica and the Director-General of the WHO
The architecture for access to medicines and vaccines, which is already complex to manage in normal times, requires even more structured actions in times of a pandemic by the scale of the demand and the urgency in meeting it. This call for solidarity to bring together the technologies and treatments related to COVID 19 is part of the necessary solution. It complements other available instruments for States to facilitate access to prevention and treatment for the population, including through the use of the flexibilities of the WTO TRIPS Agreement.
COVID-19 and WTO: Debunking Developed Countries’ Narratives on Trade Measures
By Aileen Kwa, Fernando Rosales and Peter Lunenborg
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, developing countries at the World Trade Organization (WTO) are faced with demands to i) permanently liberalize their markets in health products, and also in agriculture; ii) ban export restrictions in agriculture; and iii) conclude new digital trade rules including liberalizing online payment systems, and agreeing to free data flows. There seems to be a confusion between short-term and long-term responses. For the short-term, governments must take measures needed to address the crisis, including liberalizing needed health products. However, permanently bringing tariffs to zero for the health and agricultural sectors will not support developing countries to build domestic industries. Export restrictions in agriculture cannot be given up. They can be a very important tool for stabilizing domestic prices and for food security. New digital trade rules at the WTO would foreclose the possibility for countries to impose data sovereignty regulations, including data localization requirements that can support their infant digital platforms and industries.
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.
Public Health and Plain Packaging of Tobacco: An Intellectual Property Perspective
By Thamara Romero
In 2018, a World Trade Organization (WTO) Panel ruled that plain packaging of tobacco products was consistent with Australia’s obligations under the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) and was in the interest of public health. Plain packaging restricts the use of logos, colours and brand images to reduce the demand for and consumption of tobacco products by diminishing their advertising appeal. This paper discusses the intellectual property aspects triggered by the implementation of plain packaging, examines the best practices for its implementation and provides analysis of Australia’s case from the public health perspective. It also highlights the main arguments used in the dispute against Australia and provides practical guidance for WTO Members on implementing measures to protect public health.
Trade Measures Adopted by Countries in Response to COVID-19
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, many WTO members have adopted several measures affecting trade. Some are trade liberalizing; others are trade restrictive. South Centre has elaborated a worksheet that compiles these measures (updated till 16 April) based on available sources of information. The compilation does not intend to be exhaustive. However, it may help members to have information about the landscape of trade measures that may affect them.
The Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for the Trans-Pacific Partnership: Data Exclusivity and Access to Biologics
By Dr. Zeleke Temesgen Boru
The test data rule concerning biological medicines (hereafter biologics) has been suspended from the scope of application of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). While the suspension is commendable from the general standpoint of access to medicines and biologics in particular, the suspended provision may not provide assurance for the Parties to the CPTPP that they can rely on the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) flexibilities to promote access to biologics. In part this is because the Parties may end the suspension if and when they choose to do so. Simply put, the agreement does not promise that the suspended provision will remain suspended; rather, the Parties may revive the provision as originally negotiated under the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement. The provision, if revived, may inhibit the Parties from implementing an obligation to ensure access to biologics, medicines that target chronic and rare ailments like cancer, clotting factors and several others.
Against this backdrop, this research paper focuses on the test data rule relating to biologics as negotiated under the TPP. In particular, it explores whether the CPTPP Parties would be able to use TRIPS flexibilities effectively to promote access to biologics, as advanced by international human rights instruments, in particular the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). The paper also provides potential responses to the question of whether the test data rule deters the realization of access to biologics. In response, the author has determined that the rule on test data can limit access to biologics, as it would delay the entry of affordable biologics (biosimilars) into markets.
Comments by the South Centre on the CESCR Draft General Comment on science and economic, social and cultural rights Art. 15: 15.1.b, 15.2, 15.3 and 15.4
The South Centre welcomes the opportunity to submit its comments on the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Right (CESCR) Draft General Comment on science and economic, social and cultural rights Art. 15: 15.1.b, 15.2, 15.3 and 15.4 and commends the Secretariat of the CESCR for this initiative. We recognize the paramount importance of the ESCR and of Art. 15, which is a crucial element to ensuring other rights and the development of all countries. We further acknowledge and reinforce the importance of the draft text to address multiple emerging and long-established issues, such as the risks and promises of the 4th Industrial Revolution and the relation of science and the right to food as two examples.
Eighteen Years After Doha: An Analysis of the Use of Public Health TRIPS Flexibilities in Africa
By Yousuf A Vawda and Bonginkosi Shozi
As we observe the 18th anniversary of the Doha Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement (Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) and Public Health, it is appropriate to take stock of intellectual property developments and endeavour to present a comprehensive account of the situation in the African continent in respect of the implementation of TRIPS flexibilities, specifically those regarding access to medicines. This research paper provides an overview of the extent to which selected African countries have adopted legal and policy frameworks with regard to TRIPS flexibilities, examines the actual use of these flexibilities in enabling access to medicines in those countries, and suggests some recommendations for optimising the use of the flexibilities in pursuing public health imperatives.