WTO plans to extend meet as talks deadlocked

GENEVA: Hours before the close of the WTO ministerial meeting, the multilateral agency’s chief Ngozi OkonjoIweala has proposed to extend the deliberations by a day as talks are deadlocked on multiple fronts — from patent waiver to agriculture and fisheries subsidies — setting the stage for intense negotiations later at night. The meeting was scheduled to end on Wednesday.

The UK and Switzerland are holding a patent waiver for vaccines, arguing they were not properly consulted on the issue that concerns several large pharma companies, that their governments are accused of protecting at the cost of lives in poor African nations. South Africa, a co-sponsor to the proposal, too is holding firm on getting a better deal, while India wants negotiators to provide TRIPS waiver for drugs and devices, sources said.

Awhisper campaign has begun to portray India as the villain for blocking a deal, but the government sees little merit in accepting the proposals in the current form.

“My own sense is that what we are getting is completely half-baked and it will not allow us to make any vaccines, they have no intentions of allowing therapeutics & diagnostics and if at all they try to say that we are the cause for its collapse, I think we should unanimously speak to the world and tell them that, no, we ideally want a holistic solution including therapeutics & diagnostics,” commerce and industry minister Piyush Goyal said during a meeting with some developing countries.

Equally important for India is its demand to have a specific reiteration that the peace clause — that bars raising a dispute in case subsidy on food procurement tops the permissible limit — is in perpetuity. Sources indicated the government may not accept if concerns are not met as India is unhappy with the fact that a solution to address akey grievance has not been found despite some 80 countries seeking it.

Goyal said countries such as Egypt and Sri Lanka, have rejected the draft on food security, despite the shortages faced by them. There are concerns in developed country groups India may not agree to a moratorium on e-commerce, which will result in taxation of transactions.