The world's least developed countries (LDCs), including Bangladesh, will request the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to take necessary steps to ensure an availability of technologies for Covid-19 vaccines, Covid-related medicines and diagnostic and medical equipment from rich countries under the TRIPS agreement.
To this end, the LDCs have finalised discussions among themselves, said officials of the Ministry of Commerce, adding that a set of proposals will soon be sent to the TRIPS Council Session on the Implementation of Article 66.2.
As a least developed country, Bangladesh enjoys the patent waiver facility for Covid vaccines, but it cannot produce the vaccines without obtaining the necessary technology from rich countries, they pointed out.
They further added that even though Article 66.2 of the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) states that LDCs will receive technological support from rich countries, in many cases, including the HIV vaccine, rich countries have not handed over the technology to the LDCs.
In the current circumstances of the Covid-19 pandemic, the LDCs will submit proposals to the WTO in the hope of getting specifically the Covid vaccine technology. The set of proposals will also emphasise technology transfer for Covid kits and ventilators.
The LDCs will also propose technology transfer for producing vaccines, drugs and diagnostic or medical equipment in the event of a new pandemic in future, said the commerce ministry officials.
Md Hafizur Rahman, managing director of the WTO Cell of the commerce ministry, told The Business Standard, "The TRIPS agreement allows LDCs to demand vaccine technology from rich countries as an incentive. On the basis of this, we will soon submit a report to the WTO to get the vaccine technology."
Poor countries have not been getting the vaccines they need to protect their citizens from the ongoing pandemic, he mentioned, adding that if the technology is handed over under the TRIPS, the vaccines will be easily available all over the world, including Bangladesh.
Against this backdrop, the LDC Forum has taken the initiative to submit the report to the WTO in an attempt to obtain the vaccine technology, he continued.
"After the submission of the report, the TRIPS Council will hold a meeting and call on the rich countries to transfer the technology of Covid-19 vaccines to the LDCs," said Hafizur Rahman.
Mostafa Abid Khan, a member of the Bangladesh Trade and Tariff Commission, told TBS that although LDCs are supposed to get technological support from rich countries under TRIPS, they seldom get such support. "This time, we are going to submit the report, proposing the transfer of technology specifically for Covid vaccines."
TRIPS provides several flexibilities to IPRs on pharmaceuticals, such as compulsory licensing, patent extension, and government use for non-commercial purposes. LDCs get transitional waivers for implementing TRIPS. LDCs are not obliged to implement or enforce patents protection with respect to pharmaceuticals until 1 January 2033.
According to Article 66.2 of the TRIPS agreement, "Developed country members shall provide incentives to enterprises and institutions in their territories for the purpose of promoting and encouraging technology transfer to least developed country members in order to enable them to create a sound and viable technological base."
In the prevailing coronavirus situation, poor as well as developing nations are demanding an internationalisation of the vaccine, but the rich countries that have invented the vaccine have been opposing this demand.
As a result, the rich nations have booked more vaccines than their demand, but poor countries are facing a severe crisis of the shot.
Bangladesh has also halted administering the first dose due to a lack of vaccines. There is no guarantee of an adequate supply to go ahead with the second dose.
Commerce ministry officials said developing countries do not receive patent waivers under TRIPS. Even then, in October last year, a number of developing countries, led by India and South Africa, applied to the WTO for a moratorium on various TRIPS articles related to Covid vaccines and coronavirus-related drugs and technologies.
About 10 developing and least developed countries have endorsed that proposal.
The WTO held a meeting on 10 December in this regard. However, no decision could be reached due to objections from the rich countries, according to the officials.