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India, South Africa and other countries that have co-sponsored a deal to boost supplies of life-saving drugs and vaccines for covid-19 will soon clarify on the scope and tenure of the suggested waiver through an amended version of the proposal. This is expected to expedite text-based negotiations of the proposal at the World Trade Organization (WTO) following support by the US government.

“Co-sponsors will soon issue an amended version of their waiver proposal with the objective of moving text-based discussions forward. The amended waiver proposal seeks to further clarify the scope of the proposed waiver, while also addressing the period during which it will apply. We believe that this phase of discussion should be concluded as soon as possible given the very serious situation that we still face with covid-19. Continuous mutations and emergence of new variants of SARS-COV-2 highlight the significant uncertainties and complexities of controlling SARS-COV-2 and underscore the urgency of this proposal. A failure to respond in a timely manner on the waiver proposal undermines the legi-timacy of WTO," the co-sponsors said in a joint statement.

The co-sponsors also confirmed that they will engage in this process with flexibility to ensure a swift outcome.

“Any outcome in these negotiations must respect the wishes and common interests of the majority of members of the WTO," the statement read.

In a submission before the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Council of WTO on 2 October, India and South Africa urged WTO members to waive of certain rules of TRIPS. This would ensure intellectual property rights such as patents, copyrights and protection of undisclosed information do not create barriers to timely access to affordable vaccines and medicines or scaling up research, development, manufacturing and supply of medical products essential to combat covid, they said.

The proposal has been discussed many times at the TRIPS Council, but members are yet to reach a consensus. Developed countries or blocs, including the US, the EU, the UK, Canada, Japan, Australia and Switzerland, opposed the proposal, which has been co-sponsored by more than 100 countries, including the African group and the least developed countries group.

However, in a surprise turn of events, the US backed the proposal earlier this month, followed by France and the EU. US trade representative Katherine Tai had said the government of US President Joe Biden supports the proposal and will actively participate in text-based negotiations at WTO needed to make that happen. “Those negotiations will take time, given the consensus-based nature of the institution and the complexity of issues involved," she said.

Meanwhile, Biden on Tuesday tweeted: “America will never be fully safe while this pandemic is raging globally. That’s why today, I’m announcing that over the next six weeks we will send 80 million vaccine doses overseas. It is the right thing to do."

“This is really good news for many countries. US can also facilitate mRNA technology transfer to more manufacturers to scale vaccine supplies for #COVAX," WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan said in response to Biden’s tweet.

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