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India, along with the African Group and Cuba, has sought policy space under the multilateral trading system to impose higher tariffs and put export restrictions to deal with the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, arguing that developing countries lack the fiscal space to provide large stimulus packages that the developed members have been able to provide.

“The trade regime should not penalize developing countries for taking action to support their citizens during such an extraordinarily difficult time. Developing countries should therefore be exempt from being taken to the WTO’s Dispute Settlement Body if they implement trade measures that are essential and necessary in response to the pandemic," the developing countries said in a submission to the General Council on 4 December.

The pandemic has disproportionately affected both developing and least developed countries, with their already-weak finances and rising debt burden limiting their fiscal options to spend their way out of the recession amid growing inequality and poverty in societies. The developing nations led by India have held that they have “no other choice but to be more creative in their responses" including through potential use of trade measures.

“One hundred million people could be pushed into extreme poverty in 2020 (below $1.90 a day). A few more hundred million will join the ranks of the poor if the yardstick of $3.20 or $5.50 is used. We could see famines of historic proportions. Economic activity across the world has plummeted, and unemployment has soared. These impacts are especially bad for LDCs, Sub-Saharan Africa and countries in South Asia. There is a need to preserve policy tools that are necessary to weather the health crises, promote economic recovery and economic resilience," the proposal said.

Such a moratorium on trade measures and flexibilities on intellectual property disciplines, the developing countries said, shall have a clearly defined scope and should be maintained only temporarily for the duration of the covid-19 crisis.

“It is recognized that intellectual property rights should be interpreted and implemented in a manner supportive of the right of members to protect public health, and in particular, to promote access to medicines for all and to ensure that IPRs are protected for the benefit of all," the proposal said.

Earlier, in a submission before the TRIPS (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) Council of WTO on 2 October, India and South Africa urged WTO members for waiver of certain rules of TRIPS agreement to ensure that intellectual property rights such as patents, industrial designs, copyright and protection of undisclosed information do not create barriers to the timely access to affordable medical products including vaccines and medicines or to scaling-up of research, development, manufacturing and supply of medical products essential to combat covid-19.

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