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

H.E. Ambassador Dagfinn Sørli (Norway)
European Union
14 EXTENSION OF THE TRANSITION PERIOD UNDER ARTICLE 66.1 OF THE TRIPS AGREEMENT FOR LEAST DEVELOPED COUNTRY MEMBERS
565.   Chair, I would like to first of all thank you for the great and unwavering efforts you showed on Friday and throughout the negotiating process. The same goes also to the Secretariat, and in particular to Wolf for his engagement over the last couple of months and weeks, so that we were able to agree to a solution that is acceptable to everybody. My personal thanks to Deva and Talha of the LDC Group, who showed the necessary flexibility so that an outcome could ultimately be reached. 566.   Given the importance of flexibility, legal certainty and policy space for LDC needs, especially in the time of the pandemic, we agree that another extension of the transitional period for the implementation of the TRIPS Agreement is fully justified, and the agreed duration constitutes a reasonable compromise in that regard. Some LDC Members have already taken steps towards implementation of the TRIPS Agreement. We do hope that these and all other LDC Members will make use of this long transitional period to implement a reasonable IP framework so as to speed up the process of gradually integrating LDC Members, as Members of the multilateral trading system, in the international IP system on the basis of the minimum requirements provided in the TRIPS Agreement. Indeed, IP is, in our view, a catalyst and enabler of innovation and sustainable development. It also helps attract technology transfer and foreign investment. 567.   As regards the second part of the LDC request, namely the request for an additional period of 12 years exemption calculated from the date an LDC Member graduates from the LDC category, the European Union believes, and we have said it on many occasions before, that such a request falls outside of the scope of Article 66.1 of the TRIPS Agreement. We very much welcome the decision of the LDC Group to discuss this issue in a general and overarching manner in the General Council on the basis of the communication on smooth transition in favour of countries graduating from the LDC category submitted by the mission of Chad on behalf of the LDC Group on 17 November 2020 to the General Council, which is now under discussion in the General Council. This is where, in our view, this discussion belongs.
62. The Chair recalled that the general transition period for least developed country Members had been extended twice, most recently by the TRIPS Council decision IP/C/64 of 11 June 2013, and was currently set to expire on 1 July 2021 – in less than one months' time. With respect to extensions of this period, he noted that 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."
63. He also recalled that, under a parallel decision concerning specifically pharmaceutical products, the Council had extended the transition period for LDC Members until 1 January 2033 or until such a date on which they cease to be a LDC Member, whichever date is earlier. During this period, LDC Members concerned were not obliged to implement or apply the sections of the TRIPS Agreement regarding patents and the protection of undisclosed information, nor to enforce rights provided under these sections, insofar as pharmaceutical products were concerned.
64. He reminded the council that the LDC Group had circulated its request for an extension in document on 1 October 2020. After having held consultations, at the formal meeting of the Council in March, his predecessor had shared her impression that (1) delegations were in principle favourable to extending the transition period for LDCs, that (2) some delegations had expressed a preference for extending the period for a limited number of years, and that (3) others had raised additional questions on how the request for a transition period for graduated LDCs related to Article 66.1. At that meeting, the Council had requested the incoming Chair to hold consultations on this matter.
65. He said that, since March, he had been in touch with the LDC Group coordinators and a number of delegations in various formats. At the request of the LDC Group he had held a series of intensive consultations with the LDC Group coordinators and five developed country delegations which the LDC Group had identified.
66. Based on the interventions by delegations in these consultations, it was his reading that there was broad willingness to grant an extension of the transition period for LDCs on the basis of the 2013 decision. However, regarding the request for additional years of transition after graduation of LDCs there were more questions – and it was the view of a number of delegations that such a request was not covered by the Council's mandate in Article 66.1.
67. Given that the LDC transition period expires on 1 July of this year, and – according to the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs website – the next LDC graduations of WTO LDC Members were not expected before 2024, it had seemed to him that the most immediate – indeed, pressing – issue was the extension of the transition period for those Members that are currently LDCs under Article 66.1. This affected their status already next month, whereas the status of graduating LDCs would not be a practical issue for at least three years.
68. In light of this scenario, and as a pragmatic approach to address the most pressing issue first, he had suggested during the consultations that these two issues could be discussed separately. He had proposed that delegations could first work towards a decision on extending the LDC transition period under Art. 66.1 based on similar terms as in 2013, so that such a decision could be adopted at present meeting of the Council.
69. As regards the question whether members should be granted additional years of a transition period also after graduation, he had suggested that this could become the subject of a focused discussion – in the TRIPS Council or elsewhere – where the systemic issues Members had raised in this regard could be addressed more broadly, and with a somewhat longer time horizon.
70. He said that his suggestion had, however, not been taken up by delegations, and the LDC Group had requested an informal open-ended meeting of the Council on this subject which was then organized on 4 June 2021.
71. At that meeting, Members had had an opportunity to exchange views and listen to each other’s concerns. His assessment was that the meeting had confirmed that agreement on extending the transition period for LDCs was within reach, even if the question of duration remained to be solved, while disagreements remained over the proposal to extend the transition period beyond graduation.
72. In short, he said, Members had not been able to make as much progress as he had hoped when he had briefed Members on the consultations on 30 April 2021. His objective had been to have a basis for a decision to be adopted at this Council meeting. Given that this had not been possible and given that the current transition period will expire in three weeks from now, he encouraged delegations to share their thoughts and suggestions on how the Council could possibly address this issue.
73. The representatives of Chad on behalf of the LDC Group; Bangladesh; Tanzania on behalf of the African Group; Nepal; Senegal; Angola; Chile; Uganda; Vanuatu; Pakistan; Malawi; Mongolia; India; Myanmar; Argentina; Brazil; Mozambique; China; South Africa; Australia; Norway; the United States; Canada; Switzerland; Japan; the European Union; the United Kingdom; Turkey; Togo; and Zambia took the floor.
74. The Chair suggested to keep this agenda item open with a view to reconvening the meeting as appropriate when delegations were ready to take a decision on this item.
75. The Council took note of the statements made and agreed to keep the agenda item open.
76. At the Council for TRIPS reconvened formal meeting of 29 June 2021, the Chair proposed that the Council adopt the "Draft Decision on the extension of the transition period under Article 66.1 for least developed country Members", that had been circulated in document JOB/IP/46 on 25 June 2021. He recalled that this decision had been discussed in small group consultations in the previous week, and had been briefly introduced at an informal meeting of the Council the same afternoon, where Members had also been briefed on the consultations that had led to this agreement. In light of those discussions, he suggested that the Council adopt the decision as contained in document JOB/IP/46.
77. The Council so agreed.
78. The Chair thanked all delegations for their good faith efforts to find a solution to this matter in time before the current transition period expired the following day. He also shared his understanding that the question whether newly graduated LDC members should be accorded additional flexibilities under the TRIPS Agreement after their graduation had not disappeared. It was his understanding that the LDC Group and certain delegations agreed in their contacts that this post-graduation element of the request would best be pursued under the LDC proposal already on the agenda of the General Council. He encouraged all delegations to engage in that discussion constructively and in good faith.
79. The representatives of Chad on behalf of the LDC Group; Bangladesh; the United Kingdom; Nepal; Tanzania on behalf of the African Group; Afghanistan; Malawi; the United States, Japan; Switzerland; Togo; Canada; China; Mauritius; the European Union; Korea; India; Myanmar; Mozambique; South Africa; Australia; the Central African Republic; Egypt; and Pakistan took the floor.
80. The Council took note of the statements made.
IP/C/M/100, IP/C/M/100/Add.1