Minutes - TRIPS Council - View details of the intervention/statement

H.E. Ambassador Xolelwa Mlumbi-Peter

493.   Since it is the first time that my delegation takes the floor, let me start by thanking you for your tireless efforts in chairing this Council on a formal and informal level during these last months. 494.   The least developed countries represent the poorest and weakest segment of the international community, characterized by constraints and many difficulties in reaching their development goals. This group of countries, which represents 13% of the world's population, is combating poverty daily by striving for greater economic growth, achieving structural transformation and building productive capacity. As is well-known, the COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated the challenges that the LDCs continue to face, and this could lead to a very bleak outlook for the economic growth of countries across the globe, and in particular for the LDCs. 495.   In this scenario, it seems foreseeable that many of the Sustainable Development Goals might not be reached, notably Goal 1, as well as those Goals related to health and education. In fact, many populations are adopting coping strategies that place these Goals at further risk, such as reducing their intake of healthy and nutritious food or taking children out of school. The lockdown and slump in global demand has particularly impacted LDCs that are dependent on exports of finished products. 496.   It is evident that the COVID-19 pandemic will have far-reaching implications for the global economy and especially for LDCs, including those on the path to graduation from this category. 497.   Even before 2020, LDCs continued to be characterized by multiple structural constraints that include low per capita income, low levels of human development and extreme vulnerabilities to external shocks. As underlined in the Istanbul Programme of Action, LDCs are among the most "offtrack" in the achievement of the internationally agreed development goals. Their productive capacity is limited, and they have severe infrastructure deficits.19 498.   The flexibility ensured by TRIPS Article 66.1 was accepted in recognition of the economic, financial and administrative constraints that are preventing LDCs from immediate observance of all the obligations set out in the TRIPS Agreement. This was an acknowledgement that LDCs have special needs and requirements, including the need for flexibility to create a viable technological base. 499.   The extension of the transition period under Article 66.1 to July 1st, 2033, is in line with the overarching goal of the Istanbul Programme of Action (IPoA). The latter plans "to overcome the structural challenges faced by least developed countries in order to eradicate poverty, achieve internationally agreed development goals and enable graduation from the least developed country category".20 This goal is expected to be achieved through national policy actions and international support. Graduation from the category of least developed countries has always been among the ultimate objectives of the previous four decennial Programmes of Action for LDCs. However, the IPoA was the first to include a clearly articulated, time-bound and concrete objective of enabling LDCs to meet the criteria for graduation.21 500.   The gravity of the present situation, made all the more evident by the COVID pandemic, demands that a responsible stand be taken by the whole international community. We simply cannot remain silent in the face of so much suffering and adversity. Today, more than ever, the international community must join forces to seek a future that is sustainable, inclusive and just for all. We are called through our decisions to implement our common commitment to the good of the human family. We are called to think and act in solidarity, which "also means combatting the structural causes of poverty [and] inequality".22 This is what we are called to do, and it is within our reach: to help the poorest and most vulnerable people of our world, by agreeing that "[a] least developed country shall not be required to apply the provisions of the [TRIPs] Agreement, […] as long as the Member remains in the category of least developed country and for a period of 12 years from the date of entry into force of a decision by the UN General Assembly to exclude the Member from the least developed country category".23

60. The Chair recalled that the transition period for least-developed country Members had been extended twice; most recently, by the TRIPS Council decision of 11 June 2013, and was currently set to expire on 1 July 2021, which was in less than four months' time. Regarding extensions of this period, the second sentence of Article 66.1 of the TRIPS Agreement provided that "The Council for TRIPS shall, upon duly motivated request by a least developed country Member, accord extensions of this period."
61. The LDC Group had circulated its request for an extension on 1 October 2020. Since then, she had held small-group consultations on this issue on 22 December 2020 and on 10 February 2021. From these consultations, her impression was that delegations were in principle favourable to extending the transition period for LDCs. As regards the specific modalities of such extension, some delegations expressed full support for the extension as requested, some expressed a preference for extending the period for a limited number of years, and others had additional questions on how the request for a transition period for graduated LDCs related to Article 66.1.
62. She reminded delegations of the limited time remaining before the current transition period expired and urged them to focus their interventions on any specific outstanding questions they might have, and to consider making concrete suggestions on possible outcomes, with a view to adopting a decision on extension at the next TRIPS Council meeting in June 2021.
63. The representatives of Chad, on behalf of the LDC Group; Bangladesh, on behalf of the LDC Group; the United Kingdom; South Africa; Chile; Tanzania, on behalf of the African Group; Turkey; China; India; Australia; Switzerland; the United States of America; Egypt; the European Union; Chinese Taipei; Tunisia; Japan; Indonesia; Nepal; and the Holy See took the floor.
64. The Chair proposed that the Council request the incoming Chair to hold consultations on this matter, with a view to working towards a concrete outcome for the June meeting.
65. The Council took note of the statements made and agreed to revert to the matter at its next meeting.
IP/C/M/98, IP/C/M/98/Add.1

19 Istanbul Plan of Action (par.4) doc. A/CONF.219/3. http://ldc4istanbul.org/uploads/IPoA.pdf

20 Istanbul Plan of Action (par.27) doc. A/CONF.219/3. http://ldc4istanbul.org/uploads/IPoA.pdf

21 Graduation from the list of LDCs is based on a systematic review and assessment of the socio-economic progress of least developed countries based on three criteria: per capita income and two composite indices (Human Asset Index and Economic Vulnerability Index).

22 Pope Francis, Encyclical Letter Fratelli Tutti, p.116