Covid call: India wants WTO to consider ‘escape clauses’


India has pitched for a global pandemic response system that would map manufacturing capacities and demand of medicines and medical equipment and allow special visas or permits for healthcare professionals.

New Delhi also suggested that the World Trade Organization (WTO) consider ‘escape clause’ for countries, relying on flexibilities in trade agreements, to avoid disputes while tackling the current pandemic and any other in future.

India said during the current Covid-19 pandemic, a pool of goods such as oxygen concentrators, essential medicines and oximetres, and services through temporary measures involving special permits for short-duration supply of healthcare professionals for four to eight weeks, both physically or remotely to address acute shortages, could be created.

New Delhi asserted that any WTO response to pandemic without the waiver from Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement will not be “credible.”

The proposal, floated last year by India and South Africa, is now sponsored by 64 members and seeks to facilitate access to Covid medicines.

At a meeting of the General Council of the organisation a few days ago, India suggested that the WTO Secretariat catalogue the flexibilities under the existing pacts and rules that could be relaxed, to enable members to respond effectively to pandemics and natural disasters.

“We also need to identify WTO agreements, which do not contain such flexibilities, or escape clauses and examine possibility of providing flexibilities/escape clauses in such agreements,” India said in its submission, ahead of a key ministerial conference of the WTO in December.

India insisted that temporary measures such as trade facilitation measures and tariff liberalisation to handle pandemics and natural disasters need not be made permanent, as that would unnecessarily circumscribe the members’ policy space during normal times.

“Decision to take any measure, permanent or not, should be left to the concerned members, as per rights and obligations under the WTO” India’s representative said.



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