Thematic Session Statement of Shri Piyush Goyal during the 12th Ministerial Conference of the WTO on 'WTO Response to the Pandemic'

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Following is the full text of the Thematic Session Statement made by Union Minister of Commerce & Industry, Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution and Textiles, Shri Piyush Goyal during the 12th Ministerial Conference of the WTO in Geneva today on ‘WTO Response to the Pandemic’:

“Madam Director General, His Excellency Dr. The Most Honorable Jerome Walcott, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Barbados, Ambassador Dacio Castillo, the Facilitator of the WTO Response to the Pandemic, Ambassador Dr. Lansana Gberie, Chair of the TRIPS Council, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen.

My warmest greetings to you Director General Ngozi on your birthday. I join the entire membership in conveying our best wishes for your success now, and in the years to come. May God bless you!!

A big thank you to all of you, friends from across the world, who have conveyed your wishes to me today. I am indeed very touched.

I am happy to note that this WTO’s Response to Pandemic text has struck a very fine and carefully crafted balance. And for this, I wish to place on record my appreciation for the facilitator, Ambassador Dacio, who has set a high standard for negotiation processes that we hope will be followed elsewhere.

The response document is the only clean negotiated document to be submitted to the MC and is a testament to the good process that it has come through.

India has made several compromises along the way to make this possible, like the TRIPS automaticity clause, which was not accepted, extensive dilution of the language on IP and tech transfer; a muted ambition on food security and economic resilience, compromises on a strong forward-looking agenda on these issues, resolution of the issue of developing countries and LDCs, acceptance of issues and language we have not been comfortable with in areas of transparency, export restriction, market openness and developing countries etc. I hope that the flexibility that we have shown will pave the way for its acceptance and also be replicated in other tracks for a successful MC-12.

Therefore, disturbing this delicately poised document even slightly would unravel the months-long complex negotiations and will run the risk of failing an outcome we are close to achieving.

This document, however, has an inextricable link with the satisfactory resolution of the TRIPS document. One cannot go through without the other and they both should be finalized together. It is of paramount importance for us to commence negotiations on therapeutics and diagnostics. We cannot have a pandemic response which does not deliver an effective and workable document on TRIPS, nor can we agree to any pre-shipment notification requirements.

Friends, while this is a balanced text, achieved through a delicate consensus, which I do certainly appreciate, we have a few concerns. There is a reference to “some developing country Members, and especially LDCs” at some places in the draft Declaration of 10 June 2022. The Marrakesh Agreement refers to “developing countries and especially LDCs”. This formulation is a simple recognition that within the larger set of developing countries, LDCs may be more affected. The draft declaration uses this phrasing in several places. This is acceptable. However, “some developing countries” appears to be differentiating among  developing countries, which we feel is best omitted at this stage. The current formulation in a way rephrases the original intent of the Marrakesh Agreement.

There were huge concerns about food security during the COVID 19 pandemic. I mentioned yesterday, that India distributed nearly 100 million tonnes of food grains  through our public distribution system, thanks to the public stocks that we had acquired and allocating to nearly 800 million poor and vulnerable people for nearly 25 months, at a cost of over 50 billion US dollars. This almost doubled up the existing food grains being distributed to the vulnerable sections of society under our National Food Security programme. This has been universally recognised as one of the most comprehensive approaches to addressing hunger during the pandemic. In fact, several reports internationally suggest that this has helped bring down inequality amongst different sections of society. As I said this was only possible because of the robust public stockholding programme, which India runs. Unfortunately, para 22 of the draft declaration does not mention public stock holding for food security purposes.

Friends, for India, our response to the pandemic would not be complete without a TRIPS waiver. For the past year and a half, South Africa and India and 63 co-sponsors of the waiver proposal had urged the WTO membership to adopt the trips waiver proposal for ramping up production of vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics to comprehensively combat the COVID 19 pandemic, by enhancing supply and ensuring equitable and affordable access regrettably though the discussions reached a deadlock in the TRIPS Council.

I am indeed grateful to Madame Director General Ms Ngozi for finding a unique way forward and India participated in the informal quadrilateral discussions she had very kindly initiated. They were both intense and difficult discussions, however, both South Africa and India continued with a spirit of constructive engagement with our two friends, the United States and European Union. All of us gave a maximalist compromise position to attempt a draft which would be somewhat acceptable to the general membership. For us the text from these discussions does not reflect what we as a co-sponsor of the Waiver proposal had envisaged. The commencement of text based negotiations allowed the larger membership to engage in discussions on the texts. I was really hopeful that the remaining concerns with this text would have been resolved and reconciled. For India, a consensus based outcome is of paramount importance.

Let me emphasise that we must redouble our efforts and commence negotiations on therapeutics and diagnostics as well, since the pandemic is far from over, particularly for the developing countries, including the least developed countries. While vaccines are preventive, we need to ramp up manufacture of therapeutics and diagnostics to achieve a comprehensive test and treat strategy. We believe the outcome of this critical issue as an effective, doable and workable waiver or let’s say an enhanced compulsory licencing, as we see as received can deliver, in some measure what it was set out to achieve.

Actually, has taken us nearly over a year and a half to reach this stage. Vaccines are no more in scarcity with sufficient and affordable stocks available across the world. In fact, vaccines are now getting wasted due to expiry dates. Yet there is opposition to some of the clauses even now. There is opposition to include therapeutics and diagnostics, which could at least pave the way in the future to tackle any crisis. In the course of my discussions, it has been indicated that favour was being done to the developing countries. Well, if it’s only vaccines that we are looking at providing, I think it’s too late in the day for that the pandemic has run its initial course, currently vaccines are not in short supply. And if you’re not even able to look at the near term future and the requirements of that period, then I think it’s pretty much clear that rather than concern for humanity for the hundreds of thousands of lives lost or the millions affected, it is sad that the super profits of a few pharmaceutical companies prevail over global good.”



Source PIB