Noted economist Dr Debapriya Bhattacharya on Saturday said the next two weeks is very crucial for Bangladesh ahead of the General Council meeting of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to negotiate to continue enjoying pharmaceutical waivers beyond the LDC graduation in 2026 under the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).
Currently there is a proposal asking the pharmaceutical waiver for an additional 12 years period for the LDCs in their post-graduation phase. The issue is an agenda item for the next meeting of the WTO general council to be held on July 26-27, he said.
“The next two weeks is very important for Bangladesh if it wants to continue getting the pharmaceutical waivers under TRIPS (a legal agreement between all the member nations of WTO) ….Bangladesh –in view of the upcoming WTO General Council meeting—needs to mount a robust negotiating effort and demonstrate necessary political initiative mobilizing all political assets and negotiation power,” said the public policy analyst.
Dr Bhattacharya, also former Bangladesh ambassador to WTO, made the remarks at a virtual press conference.
Explaining the political initiative, he said the Bangladesh mission in Geneva undoubtedly plays its role there. But it is not enough.
“The issue is much more related to political affairs rather than a matter of negotiation. So, a political effort is very important here,” he said, adding that Bangladesh needs to raise its logical stance before its development partners and trade partners through its diplomats stationed in major countries – Washington, Brussels, London and Tokyo.
Dr Bhattacharya, a distinguished fellow of Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), said the next WTO general council meeting may not reach the final decision over the extension of pharmaceutical waiver. So, Bangladesh may need to continue the negotiating effort until the 12th WTO ministerial conference to be held on November 30 to December 30, 2021 in Geneva, where the final decision over the issue can be seen, he said.
If Bangladesh does not get the post-graduation facility of the pharmaceutical waiver under TRIPS Agreement, it will affect the country’s pharmaceutical industries particularly the small enterprises, increase the prices of drug and enhance the health-related cost of the people, he said.
Besides, Bangladesh, beyond the LDC group, should make the country-specific approach to trading and development partners to continue enjoying the facilities beyond its graduation as did Maldives, said the renowned economist adding that Maldives could continue getting such facilities even after its graduation from the LDC.
“Bangladesh will have to take its own stance beyond the LDCs group and I meant to make a country-specific approach. It is possible inside the WTO. All the LDCs might not get the facility. Rather some selected countries could get it. It may happen in the WTO,” he said.
There are currently seven graduating LDCs including Bangladesh among 35 LDC members of WTO.
Dr Bhattacharya stressed the need for keeping the intellectual property right (IPR) issue in the midst of the country’s transitional strategy and LDC graduation discourse to face the changes Bangladesh is witnessing in the IPR.
He mentioned that the WTO’s TRIPS council on June 29, 2021 agreed to extend the LDC transition period by another 13 years. The TRIPS under its Article-66.1 has provided the transitional period for implementation of the commitments by the LDCs since 1995, but the provision expired on July 1, 2021.
Though Chad placed the extension proposal on behalf of the LDC group in the WTO, a large number of member-states went on record to appreciate the constructive role played by the Bangladesh delegation in this regard.