IPR waiver in vaccines and opportunities for India: what does the data show?
In light of the spread of Covid-19 cases in India during the second wave, the Government of India (GOI) decided to negotiate for an IPR waiver under section 1 (copyright and related rights), 4 (industrial designs), 5 (patents), and 7 (protection of undisclosed information) of TRIPS Agreement under the World Trade Organization (WTO). The expectation of the GOI is that the proposed IPR waiver would allow more firms to come forward to manufacture vaccines, medicines, and other COVID-19 related medical items, which would in turn augment their availability at an affordable price. The current paper concludes that IPR waivers as such are unlikely improve the cheaper access to medicine. Instead, the focus should be on granting of compulsory licenses, reduction of import tariffs and non-tariff measures (NTMs) to reduce prices of COVID-19 medicines, vaccines, and other pharmaceutical items. The analysis with trade data points out India currently lacks a comparative advantage in several categories of active pharmaceutical ingredients, manufacturing medical equipment and devices, disinfectants and sterilisation products, and personal protective equipment. In contrast, it holds a comparative advantage in manufacturing vaccines and formulations. Interestingly, India imposes higher tariffs and NTMs on both sets of products, irrespective of the comparative advantages. The analysis concludes that the focus of the policymakers should be on reduction and elimination of tariffs and NTMs. This will ensure smoother availability of medicinal goods in the domestic market at an affordable price on one hand and augment competitiveness in the world market on the other.