Press Trust of india

WTO clinches deal on fisheries subsidies; agrees for patent waiver for Covid vaccines

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Geneva: After two nights of intense negotiations, World Trade Organisation members on Friday clinched a deal on curbing harmful fishing subsidies and agreed for a temporary patent waiver for COVID-19 vaccines.

It was also agreed to find a final solution to the issue of continuation of moratorium on imposing customs duties on electronic transmission of goods by the next ministerial conference of the WTO or not later than March 2024.

“All in all, it is a good package,” commerce and industry minister Piyush Goyal told reporters here.

After a gap of about nine years, a pact — fisheries subsidies agreement — was agreed upon by the members of the WTO (World Trade Organisation).

The four-day talks, which started on June 12, got over only on early Friday.

It was in 2013 at the Bali ministerial conference of the WTO, the member countries inked the trade facilitation agreement to promote seamless movement of goods across the global borders.

The fisheries subsidies agreement, which was under discussions for over two decades, was finalised to eliminate subsidies on overfishing, and illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

“There is a good outcome on the issues which are long pending,” Goyal said, adding that India has completely protected the interests of fishermen and farmers.

The members also agreed to grant a temporary patent waiver for manufacturing COVID-19 vaccines for a period of five years. Under this, a country would be able to issue a compulsory licence to its domestic pharma firms to make that vaccine without taking approval from the original maker. Besides, it was also decided to permit export of those vaccines.

Talks on including therapeutics and diagnostics, as proposed by India and South Africa, under the purview of this waiver would start after six months.

On the WTO’s response to pandemic and future pandemics, the members have agreed to come out with a declaration and it would not change any rights and obligations because there were certain sensitivities involved in the matter.

The WTO finalised a proposal to not restrict supplies of food grains to the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP). However, these supplies would be subjected to the domestic requirements.

Goyal said that with the efforts of all the members, MC 12 (12th ministerial conference) established the relevance of the WTO and it is a big boost to multilateralism.

Briefing media on the last day, Goyal said that talks happened day and night from June 12 on different issues and due to that outcome documents were released on eight issues after a gap of seven years.

“Everybody thought that this would be a failed meeting and some countries were raising concerns over the relevance of multiliteralism…. Issues which were pending for long, there was progress on that. ….Today we have no issues and we are not leaving Geneva with concerns,” Goyal said.

India has not done any compromise on the issue of minimum support  price procurement from farmers for public stock holding, he added.

“Fisherman issues we have protected. We have got future policy space. We took important decisions on food security and WTO response to the pandemic,” he said, adding that the continuation of moratorium on e-commerce trade was agreed with a deadline.

On WTO reforms, he said that in this it was ensured that the core principles like consensus-based decision making and special and differential treatment for developing and LDCs (Least Developed Countries) are there.

“On TRIPS waiver, initially we asked for a full waiver but it has an issue on innovation, we need to respect that… A balanced decision was taken on this. Countries will be able to make vaccines. Everybody was satisfied with the decision,” the minister said.

The fisheries subsidies pact is limited to illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing only, he said, adding the full agreement will come up for discussion.

WTO Director General Nzogi Okonjo-Iweala said: “The package agreements you have reached will make a difference to the lives of people around the world.

Okonjo-Iweala, who is 15 months into the job, said, “The outcomes demonstrate that the WTO is in fact capable of responding to emergencies of our time.”

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