The South African ambassador to the World Trade Organisation, Xolelwa Mlumbi-Peter, has made a powerful plea for Covid-19 medicines to be treated as part of the so-called ‘Trips agreement’ which eased access to Aids drugs for developing nations.

The Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (Trips) is a World Trade Organisation (WTO) protocol that allows exporting countries to grant compulsory licences – without necessarily obtaining the patent holder’s consent – to generic suppliers to manufacture and export more medicines to countries that cannot make the needed medicines themselves.

The agreement caused ructions in the early 2000s after global pharmaceutical companies objected to generic Aids medicines being produced and exported to developing countries, because of their breach of international copyright laws. But many developed countries and pharmaceutical firms gradually accepted the Aids crisis was exceptional and did not fight the manufacture and export of Aids drugs to certain countries.

In a speech to the WTO, South African ambassador to the WTO Xolelwa Mlumbi-Peter told delegates that the novel coronavirus has had a disproportionately heavy impact on the poor and the most vulnerable, with repercussions on health and development gains, particularly in low-income countries.

“Curbing the pandemic and limiting the social and…

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