India has suggested the World Trade Organization (WTO) to consider possible escape clauses for countries to avoid disputes while using the flexibilities in global trade agreements in response to current and future pandemics and natural disasters.
New Delhi has also said that the WTO, along with other international organisations, needs to put in place a pandemic response system, that would map manufacturing capacities and demands, and allow special visas/permits for healthcare professionals besides creating a pool of resources of essential goods and services.
At a meeting of the General Council of the organisation a few days ago, India suggested the WTO Secretariat to catalogue the flexibilities under the existing pacts and also of those rules that can be relaxed, to enable members to respond 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, ahead of a key ministerial conference of the WTO in December.
On an international pandemic response system, 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 the acute shortages, could be created.
India also insisted that temporary measures such as trade facilitation measures and tariff liberalization, to handle pandemics and natural disasters, need not be made permanent as making them permanent 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.
Moreover, while providing for regulatory coherence to avoid duplications and save time, due care should be taken to ensure that all regulatory authorities concerns have access to the regulatory dossiers.
Further, any WTO response to pandemics without the waiver from Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement will not be “credible”, India said .
The proposal, floated last year by India and South Africa, is now sponsored by 64 members and seeks to facilitate access to Covid medicines.