VIENNA (Reuters) – India and South Africa want the World Trade Organization (WTO) to waive intellectual property rules to make it easier for developing countries to produce or import COVID-19 drugs, a letter here&Open=True to the WTO shows.
In their letter dated Oct. 2 the two countries called on the global trade body to waive parts of the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), which governs patents, trademarks, copyright and other intellectual property rules globally.
“As new diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines for COVID-19 are developed, there are significant concerns (over) how these will be made available promptly, in sufficient quantities and at (an) affordable price to meet global demand,” the letter posted on the Geneva-based WTO’s website says.
The two countries said that developing nations are disproportionately affected by the pandemic and that intellectual property rights, including patents, could be a barrier to the provision of affordable medicine.
The letter asks that the WTO’s Council for TRIPS recommends a waiver to the General Council, the WTO’s top decision-making body in Geneva, “as early as possible”. It does not say how much support India and South Africa have from other countries.
A draft General Council decision text submitted with the letter says the waiver should last an as yet unspecified number of years and be reviewed annually.
Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by David Goodman
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South Africa is planning to auction off more than 8 billion rand ($483 million) of high-speed internet spectrum following years of delays, giving a boost to wireless carriers such as Vodacom Group Ltd. and MTN Group Ltd.
The move will help to revive the economy by producing a rise in investment in broadband while helping to lower data costs, Independent Communications Authority of South Africa Chairman Keabetswe Modimoeng said at a briefing on Wednesday. Units of various bandwidth are priced at between 9.8 million rand and 1.16 billion rand, he said.
Vodacom and MTN, the country’s telecom market leaders, have long called for the release of spectrum to grow in their domestic market. Previous attempts at starting the auction have floundered on political disputes over how it should proceed and who should benefit, and the matter is one of several planned reforms to have been mired in bureaucracy.
Vodacom and MTN said they would review details on the auctioning process when Icasa releases the conditions by no later than October 2. The companies are also pleased that a temporary release of new spectrum to help carriers deal with a surge in demand for data during South Africa’s strictest form of coronavirus lockdown has been extended to March 2021, with the completion of the auction.
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President Cyril Ramaphosa included the auction of internet capacity in plans to revive the economy earlier this month, alongside moves such as curbing corruption and simplifying mining rules. South Africa is deep in recession, with an existing slump exacerbated by lockdowns to contain the coronavirus.
Interested parties can bid for spectrum until the end of
South Africans were cheered Wednesday with two announcements many thought would never come: Arrests in relation to state corruption and plans to auction new internet spectrum.
Four government officials and business people were detained as part of an investigation into a 255 million-rand ($15-million) asbestos audit project awarded by a provincial housing department, according to a police unit. The move is a rare sign of progress in the fight to curb graft that became rife under former President Jacob Zuma.
Read More: South Africa Authorities Arrest Four in Asbestos Audit Probe
His successor, Cyril Ramaphosa, launched an inquiry into corruption shortly after ousting Zuma in early 2018, but many South Africans have become disillusioned with the process as few culprits have been held accountable. That only worsened at the height of the country’s Covid-19 pandemic, when a string of dubious contracts to supply personal-protection equipment came to light.
The auction of new broadband spectrum is another government pledge that has been delayed for years. Yet the industry regulator on Wednesday laid out plans to sell more than 8 billion rand worth over the next six months. Ramaphosa had included the initiative in an economic-revival plan published earlier this month, which also contained promises to fight graft.
Read More: South Africa Starts $479 Million Sale of Internet Spectrum
Vodacom Group Ltd. and MTN Group Ltd. have long called for more spectrum to help grow in their domestic market. They claim the lack of bandwidth is responsible for the country’s relatively high data prices, another source of public disgruntlement.