Covid passport, vaccine discrimination new trade barriers: India to WTO

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India has raised concerns over new trade barriers such as vaccine discrimination and Covid passports being imposed by some developed countries, saying they were impacting movement of persons and services exports.

New Delhi, which has been pushing for relaxation in intellectual property rights to facilitate access to Covid medicines, took these issues up at a meeting at the World Trade Organization (WTO) last week.

It said free flow of services and supplies such as health services, international telemedicine services needed for handling the pandemic or natural disasters must be prioritised.

“WTO response should not only try to address the existing trade barriers like export restrictions, but also address new and emerging ones, like vaccine differentiations or Covid passports,” India’s representative said at an informal meeting of the heads of delegations, ahead of a key ministerial conference (MC12) of the WTO in December.

This assumes significance in the wake of the UK not recognising fully vaccinated Indian travellers and asking them to quarantine, to which India retaliated by imposing reciprocal measures for all British travellers irrespective of their vaccination status.

At the WTO, India also defended export restrictions, saying they were a legitimate policy tool available with members. Current use of such measures in the context of a pandemic was “symptomatic and causal”, reflecting acute supply side constraints, it submitted. However, it said that unless the supply of essential products to combat pandemics is augmented by mobilizing the global manufacturing capacity, by making the intellectual property (IP) know-how and technology openly accessible to all potential manufacturers, the world will not be able to address these challenges.

New Delhi stated that an agreement on the WTO’s response to the pandemic will be determined by reaching an outcome on the Trade-Related aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (Trips) waiver proposal.

Almost a hundred countries have supported an India-South Africa joint proposal seeking a waiver for all WTO members of certain provisions of copyrights, industrial designs, patents and protection of undisclosed information in the Trips agreement for prevention, containment or treatment of Covid-19.

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