The HINDU Notes – 20th June 2022 - VISION

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Monday, June 20, 2022

The HINDU Notes – 20th June 2022


📰 Recognising the ‘compulsory’ woman worker

There is an urgent need for widespread surveys of poor rural women and how they spend their time

•The Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) reported that the labour participation rate of rural women was 9.92% in March 2022 compared to 67.24% for men. This is a cause for concern. According to CMIE, millions who left the labour market stopped looking for employment “possibly [because they were] too disappointed with their failure to get a job and under the belief that there were no jobs available”. In countries like the U.S., Canada and Australia, such workers who are willing to work but give up searching for work for various reasons are called ‘discouraged workers’ and they are included in the unemployed category. This phenomenon, not captured in India by any official labour force surveys, is wrongly described as women “dropping out” or “leaving the labour market” giving the impression that this was a choice made by them, whereas, actually, women are pushed out of employment. The CMIE provides valuable inputs for urgently required government intervention in rural India.

•Ground-level realities are worse than what the CMIE suggests and what the government denies. Women who belong to landless households or with meagre landholdings cannot afford the luxury of being “discouraged.” These are the “compulsory” workers.

The depths of distress

•The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) sites are probably the best places to understand the compulsions of millions of women to work. One particular project in Kalaburagi district focuses on creating more than 200 percolation ponds, which are designed to address the declining levels of ground water and to help recharge wells. This project provides a few workdays to an estimated 300 workers from four villages. The soil is hard and dry and the project stretches over several kilometres. The women, who outnumber the men, work in women-only pairs. They dig and lift the mud. In the searing heat, they have to dig a 10X10X1 tank in a day. An assistant to the officer-in-charge estimated that because the soil is hard and stony, this would mean digging and lifting about 3,000 kg of mud a day. Since most of these women are unable to complete this task, they do not get the piece rate of ₹309; they get only ₹280 to ₹285. There was no crèche at the site. There was no water, so women took turns to walk a kilometre to a water source to fill their two-litre bottles. They said their limbs ached. Many said they felt dizzy.

•But despite the difficult conditions, every worker on the site complained about getting only about 40 days of work in a year. They wanted more as they regard MGNREGA work as their savior. The fact that they want to do more of this punishing work reveals the depths of the distress of poor rural households.

•During the agricultural season, all the women worked on the lands of others, earning around the same as on the MGNREGA site. But the mechanisation of agricultural operations has drastically decreased workdays to less than three months a year. Many women therefore become part-time construction workers. They are hired by a network of “mistries” working for contractors. They migrate to construction sites for a few months, with their families or with other women from the village. Not one of them I had met had registered as a construction worker. They were therefore ineligible for any legal benefits accruing to them from the Construction Workers’ Welfare Board. At a construction site, each of them carried a minimum of 1,000 bricks a day, weighing two kilos each, or other heavy construction material, often climbing to the first or second floor with this load. They were being paid ₹300 a day, less than the men.

•When manual or construction work is unavailable, the women find other work. Some of them make twig baskets and brooms. They walk from village to village, often 25 km a day, to sell the baskets. It takes two days to make 10 baskets for which they make ₹10 per basket. Some women provide services such as cleaning or do odd jobs for landholding families for an average of three or four days a month. Some do tailoring work. They also do their own housework. So, going by the anecdotal evidence of women at a MGNREGA site, an individual woman in the course of a year is a MGNREGA worker, an agricultural worker, a construction worker, a migrant worker, a self-employed street vendor, a tailor, an odd job domestic worker, and a home-maker doing multiple domestic chores.

•The ‘compulsory’ woman worker’s work never ends. Siddhama, a 45-year-old mother of four from Yadgiri district, stretched out her arms and said: “My arms that labour... this is the property I have, to earn money for my family to survive. When I work, they eat.”

•The high prices of essential commodities have led to a huge cut in women’s consumption of vegetables and pulses. To prove their point, some of the women at the worksite brought out their lunch boxes, which contained rice or rotis and a chilli chutney. Two sisters, Sheelawati and Chandramma, said, “We drink water after having the chilli chutney. Then we don’t feel hungry.” Others nodded in agreement. They said that the 10 kg of grain per head from the Central and State governments’ free foodgrains programme was of great help and were afraid it would end. The deprivation of nourishment that women face due to high prices and low incomes is another dimension of the ‘compulsory’ woman worker’s life.

Providing minimum wage

•Almost every woman spoke of being trapped in debt. What the women earn from multiple tasks for which there are no fixed piece rates is in no way equal to the amount of labour they do. The dismantling of labour laws in urban areas has weakened labour departments. Implementation of minimum wage in rural India is conceivable only with strong movements of agricultural workers’ unions. While there should be strict implementation of minimum wages with piece rates fixed for different types of women’s labour, it is unfair that landless manual labourers in rural India are denied the pitiful government annual cash transfer of ₹6,000 given to land-owning farmers. While rural labourers should also be entitled to a similar cash transfer, the schedule of rates for women at MGNREGA projects based on impossibly high productivity rates must be lowered and the work sites made more worker-friendly.

•With the deep penetration of capitalist processes in rural India, there is a crisis of livelihood options. Poor women adopt various strategies to deal with it. To make a correct analysis of this crisis requires a sensitive lens. The invisibility of women’s work can be addressed through time use surveys. The village-level time use surveys done by the Foundation for Agrarian Studies, for instance, revealed the extent of women’s work. In fact, widespread surveys of poor rural women and how they spend their time are an urgent necessity. The ‘compulsory’ woman worker must be recognised and protected by laws and policies that address her issues, while India celebrates the 75th year of Independence.

📰 Petty patents can boost R&D

A petty patents regime could encourage domestic enterprises to undertake minor adaptive innovations

•Innovative activity is the key driver of competitiveness and economic growth. In that context, India’s rank of 46 in WIPO’s Global Innovation Index (GII) 2021, up from 81 in 2015, is encouraging. This finding corroborates an earlier one by UNCTAD in its Digital Economy Report 2021 where India was seen as exceeding expectations. While these findings are encouraging, India, which aspires to emerge as one of the largest economies of the world, needs to move up further in the innovation rankings, for building self-reliance in technology, especially in the context of the incipient digital revolution. China occupies the 12th rank in GII, ahead of Japan at 13th. This shows that it is possible to move up the ladder with sustained effort.

Boosting R&D activities

•India has much room for enhancing its innovative activity. Among the key indicators, gross R&D expenditure (GERD) as a percentage of GDP at 0.7% is low. It needs to rise to upwards of 2% of GDP, as in the leading innovative nations. Furthermore, only about 30% of the GERD is spent by business enterprises, despite the generous tax incentives offered by the government. This suggests that Indian enterprises have not got into an R&D culture, not to talk of innovative rivalry. The bulk of innovative activity is conducted by a handful of companies in the pharma and auto sectors.

•What can be done to boost the R&D activities of Indian enterprises? Given the strategic importance of innovative activity, governments in developed countries spend billions of dollars on R&D subsidies given to national enterprises to shore up their competitiveness. Subsidies up to 50% of project costs have been made non-actionable under the World Trade Organization rules. In India, R&D activities have been encouraged mainly through weighted tax deductions. Partial funding for specific R&D projects undertaken by business enterprises may be desirable to develop products or processes, thus strengthening competitiveness.

•Funding support for R&D activity of business enterprises may help to direct it to a desirable direction or field. For instance, it may be used to promote capability building for new products, process innovations for local or global markets, focus on enhancing ecological sustainability, promote industry’s linkage with public-funded research laboratories and universities, and so on.

•A generous programme is needed to push R&D activities of enterprises through partial funding for viable R&D proposals of industry to strengthen India’s competitive edge. Besides, products based on indigenously developed technology could be given production tax concessions (such as those extended to small-scale industry products) and income tax concessions (such as those enjoyed by export turnover) to encourage innovation.

The patent system

•The number of patents registered by residents is another indicator of innovative activity. The patent filings by Indian enterprises and other institutions have increased from 8,841 in 2011 to 23,141 in 2020 (WIPO). However, patents granted have been only 776 and 4,988 respectively. Although the ratio of applications to grants has gone up over the years, many patent applications fail to satisfy the three-pronged test of novelty, inventive step and utility. In that context, another policy to promote local innovation could be to protect minor innovations through the so-called utility models or petty patents, as has been done by several East Asian countries. The patent system fails to encourage minor innovations since the criteria for inventiveness tend to look at the novelty of the invention. The experience of several East Asian countries suggests that petty patents and industrial design patents could be effective means of encouraging domestic enterprises to undertake minor adaptive innovations and foster an innovation-based rivalry among them. India should consider adopting a petty patents regime that provides limited protection to minor incremental innovations made, especially those by MSMEs, often called jugaad. The utility models or petty patents typically provide a limited period of protection (5-10 years in contrast to 20 years in case of patents) and have less stringent requirements and procedures. Incentivising minor and incremental innovations through limited protection under utility models will help to foster the innovation rivalries among firms, particularly MSMEs, paving the way for more significant innovations by them in the future.

•India’s rising rank in the global innovation league suggests its potential, opportunity, and stakes in boosting the R&D culture among business enterprises to strengthen their competitiveness. R&D funding and petty patents could foster these.

📰 Auctioning 5G spectrum bands

What are the use cases of the new cellular technology? How is the roll-out being planned?

•The Union Cabinet gave its nod for the auction of spectrum that can be used to offer 5G services, at its meeting held on June 14. A total of 72 Ghz of spectrum with a validity period of 20 years will be put on sale towards the end of July.

•The two issues that the industry has highlighted with regards to the upcoming auctions are high reserve prices for the spectrum and direct allotment of spectrum to enterprises for setting up captive private networks.

•5G is expected to form the backbone of emerging technologies such as IoT and machine to machine communications, thereby supporting a much larger range of applications and services, such as tele-surgery and real time data analytics. 

•The story so far: The Union Cabinet, chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, gave its nod for the auction of spectrum that can be used to offer 5G services, at its meeting held on June 14. A total of 72,097.85 MHz (or 72 Ghz) of spectrum with a validity period of 20 years will be put on sale during the auction planned towards the end of July. The auction will be held for spectrum in various Low (600 MHz, 700 MHz, 800 MHz, 900 MHz, 1800 MHz, 2100 MHz, 2300 MHz), Mid (3300 MHz) and High (26 GHz) frequency bands. It is expected that the Mid and High band spectrum will be utilised by telecom service providers (TSPs) to roll-out 5G services wherein speeds would be 10 times higher than what is possible through the current 4G services. This follows the Budget 2022 announcement by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman that the government would auction telecom spectrum in 2022, which will enable private players to roll out 5G services before March 2023.

When will the spectrum be auctioned?

•The auctions are scheduled to commence from July 26. The Department of Telecom has invited applications from prospective bidders to participate in the auctions. Based on the applications, the government will pre-qualify applicants who meet the eligibility criteria.

When will the commercial roll-out happen?

•Telecom Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw recently said that the 5G deployment is likely to start from August-September this year, and service should commence in about 20-25 cities by the year-end.

•Experts and analysts expect a gradual roll-out of 5G across the country in a phased manner over the next two to three years, with roll-outs beginning from the second half of the current year.

•“Given the operator's public statements, nascent 5G device penetration and limited use cases, we expect a more gradual 5G roll out by telcos over the next 2-3 years,” according to a note by Credit Suisse. Likewise, Nomura in a research note has said that relief measures by the government, such as scrapping of spectrum usage charges (SUC) for future spectrum auctions and moratorium on deferred spectrum payments and Adjusted Gross Revenue (AGR) dues has considerably eased the pathway for 5G rollouts in India. “...we think 5G rollouts would commence in 2HCY22F. However, given the nascent 5G ecosystem and evolving use cases, we think 5G rollouts would likely be granular starting with metros and larger cities,” Nomura added.

What are the key issues?

•The two issues that the industry has highlighted with regards to the upcoming auctions are high reserve prices for the spectrum and direct allotment of spectrum to enterprises for setting up captive private networks.

•The government has accepted the recommendations given by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) on reserve prices for spectrum auctions. While the TRAI had earlier recommended reducing prices of airwaves across various bands by 35-40% from its earlier proposed base price, the telecom operators had expressed disappointment given their demand for a 90% cut in the prices. “At these prices, a block of 5MHz spectrum (paired) in the 700MHz band will cost ₹196bn (US$2.5bn), 50MHz block in the 3.4GHz band will cost ₹159bn (US$2bn) and 400MHz block in the 26GHz band will cost ₹28bn (US$0.4bn),” according to Credit Suisse.

•On allowing direct allocation of spectrum for captive non-public networks, the government has reasoned that the move will spur a new wave of innovations in Industry 4.0 applications such as machine to machine communications, Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI) across automotive, healthcare, agriculture, energy, and other sectors. However, the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), which counts the three private telcos as its members, has said that the move severely degrades the business case of TSPs. “This will diminish the revenue so much that there will be no viable business case left for the TSPs and there will not remain any need for 5G networks roll-out by TSPs,” it had said before the Cabinet decision.

What benefits are likely to come with 5G?

•5G is the next generation cellular technology that will provide faster and more reliable communication with ultra low latency. As per the set standards, with 5G, the peak network speeds are expected to be in the range of 2-20 Gbps as opposed to about 25 Mbps on current 4G networks. In India, however, 4G speeds average at around 6-7 Mbps, but are picking up gradually.

•It is expected that with 5G technology, consumers will be able to download data heavy content such as 8K movies and games with better graphics in just a few seconds. The users will need to update to 5G-enabled devices to access the network, if they are not already using one. However, it is likely that the primary use of the technology will go beyond delivery of services on personal mobile devices. 5G is expected to form the backbone of emerging technologies such as IoT and machine to machine communications, thereby supporting a much larger range of applications and services, such as tele-surgery and real time data analytics. Ultra low latency offered by 5G makes the technology desirable for such use cases. Latency is the amount of time data takes to travel between its source and destination.

•As per a report by a government panel on 5G, even after the entry of 5G into the Indian networks, the earlier generation mobile technologies — 2G, 3G and 4G, will continue to remain in use and may take 10 or more years to phase out. 5G is expected to create a cumulative economic impact of $1 trillion in India by 2035, the report added.

📰 The EPI may rankle but India can recast policies

The country ought to adopt a dashboard approach to indicators, modelled on the Stiglitz-Sen-Fitoussi proposal

•For a government acutely sensitive to global rankings, the latest Environmental Performance Index (EPI) placing India last among all 180 assessed countries has naturally touched a raw nerve. The assessment, carried out by Yale and Columbia Universities with an emphasis on climate change mitigation, has become controversial for prioritising the flow of greenhouse gases from countries while reducing the emphasis on the stock of carbon dioxide from industrialised countries that is warming the globe.

•Evidently, if countries were assigned a penalty for the stock of CO2 in the atmosphere, rather than measure their mitigation actions over a decade, India would fare much better. Less controversially, the EPI dwells on performance on air quality, waste management and ecological conservation measures.

Government’s response

•Unsurprisingly, the EPI ranking and scores have been rejected by the Union Government as based on “unfounded assumptions”, “surmises” and “unscientific methods.” The national rank of 165 on Climate Policy and score of 21.7 in this category — which overall has a 38% weightage in the calculations along with 42% for Ecosystem Vitality and 20% for Environmental Health — has particular significance. India is under pressure to raise its ambition and commitment towards the more ambitious 1.5° Centigrade goal for temperature rise under the Paris Agreement, going beyond the less rigorous target of well below 2°C.

•Within the overall climate score, India does better in sub-metrics such as growth rates for black carbon, methane and fluorinated gases, and greenhouse gas emissions based on their intensity and per capita volumes. The Index rates the country low on projected green house gas (GHG) emissions for mid-century, a target for Net Zero emissions. The EPI report estimates that China, India, the United States, and Russia are expected to account for over 50% of global residual greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

•This projection has met with strong protest from India, which has faulted the EPI for introducing a new metric on climate with increased weight in the calculation compared to the 2020 assessment. It stands accused of ignoring the important tenet of equity in global climate policy within the United Nations framework: that India has low per capita GHG emissions, reduced intensity of GHG emissions in its economy, made big strides achieving 40% renewable power generation, supported electric vehicles, launched a major carbon sink initiative, and done a lot for wetland conservation.

Claims and low PARI score

•The country has protested that the new India State of Forest Report (ISFR) 2021 was not factored in as part of the biodiversity metric. On the face of it, India scores abysmally low on some of the Ecosystem Vitality variables, such as Marine Protected Areas (0.3 of a possible 100) and Protected Areas Representativeness Index, or PARI (0.5), Terrestrial Biome Protection (TBM) – National (1.2) and TBM – Global (2.1). Wetland loss prevention is among the best scores for India, at 62. Given the many biomes that exist in the country, the low PARI score puts pressure on the Government to defend its claim that the EPI scores for biodiversity health are faulty due to weaknesses in collecting species and habitat data.

•The ISFR, on which the Union government relies, ran into trouble for making spectacular claims, because of perceived methodological weaknesses. It is faulted for relying on a relaxed definition of forest and claiming expansion of forests when satellite imagery of the same areas showed a decline. Ecologist and co-founder of the Nature Conservation Foundation M.D. Madhusudan pointed out that palm trees in private plantations in Tamil Nadu, tea estates in several States and even urban tree agglomerations were found added as forest. Researchers have been demanding that the actual maps used for the ISFR estimates be released publicly, not just the report making claims of expansion.

Biome protection, air quality

•The EPI-assigned rating for India in protecting biomes has led to sharp differences too. The Index assigns a ‘laggard’ rank on tropical and subtropical dry broadleaf and coniferous forests, montane grasslands and shrublands and the worst performance on deserts and xeric shrublands. The Government’s defence is that national and legal boundaries for protected areas may not match geographical boundaries of biomes, and international classifications may not be optimal to measure conservation.

•A second sensitive area in which India brings up the rear in the EPI is air quality. With a score of 7.8 and a rank of 179, the familiar dispute over data and reliability of several parameters has reopened. The Government faults the dataset on pollutant concentration data — covering mainly Particulate Matter (PM2.5), Oxides of Nitrogen, Sulphur Dioxide and Volatile Organic Compounds, because of “higher uncertainty in regions with less extensive monitoring networks and emissions inventories”.

•Although the scores and rank could be contested, there is little doubt that India’s air is widely seen as among the foulest. Data for 2019, when economic activity was unfettered by COVID-19, attribute 1.67 million deaths during the year from air pollution.

•This has been reiterated by recent literature with commentary in The Lancet Planetary Health pointing out that “India has developed instruments and regulatory powers to mitigate pollution sources but there is no centralised system to drive pollution control efforts and achieve substantial improvements. In 93% of India, the amount of pollution remains well above WHO [World Health Organization] guidelines.”

•There are some aspects of the EPI that the Union government has rejected, blaming the ranking agencies for not “engaging” with India on the climate change mitigation programme, and for not providing a handicap under the United Nations principle of Common But Differentiated Responsibilities and Respective Capabilities (CBDR-RC), which forms the basis of the Paris Agreement.

•India’s defence has always been that its current emissions profile may be high, but it has to raise living standards of hundreds of millions with cheap energy. It seeks a significant share of the remaining global carbon budget and climate funds for mitigation actions.

Green goals

•The national case would be stronger if policies on luxury urban emissions are aimed at helping poorer Indians. On transport (about 13% of emissions), prevailing high fuel and vehicular taxes could exclusively drive change and raise a green commons such as clean public transport, cycling and pedestrianisation. The national policy of achieving Net Zero emissions by 2070 provides a longer timeline for a coal phaseout, but other areas can benefit from policies that prevent a carbon lock-in effect. Emissions from buildings, including embedded carbon in construction materials such as cement and steel, provide scope for reduction.

•India has also not expanded disaggregated rooftop solar power across residential deployments and commercial structures. There cannot also be excessive reliance on carbon sinks in the short term, since tree cover of the right kind takes time to store carbon. Stronger protection for biomes (protected areas represent about 5% of the land) can generate wide-ranging benefits and biodiversity can recover.

•What India needs to adopt is a rigorous dashboard approach to indicators, assigning high weight to the environment, modelled on the proposal made by Amartya Sen, Joseph Stiglitz and Jean-Paul Fitoussi in their exploration of development beyond GDP. This can generate good data, identify the real beneficiaries of policies, avoid serious environmental deficits and ensure inter-generational equity in the use of natural resources. It can also curb pollution. Distorted rankings from external assessments would matter little.

📰 Indian interests at the WTO Ministerial Conference

What is the Geneva package? How did India present and push its interests especially with regard to the fisheries and agriculture sectors?

•On June 17, member countries of the WTO wrapped up the Ministerial Conference’s twelfth outing (MC12) securing agreements on relaxing patent regulations to achieve global vaccine equity; ensuring food security, according subsidies to the fisheries sector and continuing moratoriums relevant to e-commerce, among others. Together they constitute the “Geneva Package.” 

•Negotiators could not reach agreements on issues such as permissible public stockholding threshold for domestic food security, domestic support to agriculture, cotton, and market access.

•Within the next six months, members are expected to decide on increasing the scope of the agreement to cover the production and supply of COVID-19 diagnostics and therapeutics as well.

•The story so far: On June 17, member countries of the World Trade Organization (WTO) wrapped up the Ministerial Conference’s twelfth outing (MC12) securing agreements on relaxing patent regulations to achieve global vaccine equity; ensuring food security, according subsidies to the fisheries sector and continuing moratoriums relevant to e-commerce, among others. Together they constitute what WTO’s Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala referred to as the “Geneva Package.” India saw some successes at the MC12 with respect to the above mentioned sectors.
What is the WTO’s Ministerial Conference?

•The MC is at the very top of WTO’s organisational chart. It meets once every two years and can take decisions on all matters under any multilateral trade agreement. Unlike other organisations, such as the International Monetary Fund or World Bank, WTO does not delegate power to a board of directors or an organisational chief. All decisions at the WTO are made collectively and through consensus among member countries at varied councils and committees. This year’s conference took place in Geneva, Switzerland.  
What were the debates around agriculture at the MC? 

•The agreements on the subject are of particular significance to India. Referring to its status as a significant contributor to the World Food Programme (WFP), India had earlier stated that it had never imposed export restrictions for procurement under the programme. It put forth that a blanket exemption could constrain its work in ensuring food security back home. In such a situation, it would have to keep its WFP commitments irrespective of its domestic needs. Negotiators agreed that member countries would not impose export prohibitions or restrictions on foodstuffs purchased for humanitarian purposes of the WFP. The decision would however not prevent member countries from adopting measures for ensuring domestic food security.  

•Negotiators could not reach agreements on issues such as permissible public stockholding threshold for domestic food security, domestic support to agriculture, cotton, and market access. The central premise of the agreements was to ensure availability, accessibility and affordability of food to those in need, especially in humanitarian emergencies. It encouraged member countries with available surplus to release them on international markets in compliance with WTO regulations. Moreover, it instituted a work programme to come up with measures to help LDCs (least-developed countries) and NFIDCs (Net Food Importing Developing Countries) enhance their domestic food security and bolster agricultural production. 

What about fisheries related agreements? 

•India successfully managed to carve out an agreement on eliminating subsidies to those engaged in illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. The only exception for continuing subsidies for overfished stock is when they are deemed essential to rebuild them to a biologically sustainable level. Overfishing refers to exploiting fishes at a pace faster than they could replenish themselves — currently standing at 34% as per the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Declining fish stocks threaten to worsen poverty and endanger communities that rely on aquatic creatures for their livelihood and food security.

•Further, the agreements hold that there would be no limitation on subsidies granted or maintained by developing or least-developed countries for fishing within their exclusive economic zones (EEZ).  

Have the current moratoriums on electronic transmissions been extended? 

•Member countries agreed to extend the current moratorium on not imposing customs duties on electronic transmission (ET) until MC13 — scheduled to take place in December 2023. 105 countries which includes the U.S. , the U.K., Australia, China and Japan among others , had sought an extension of the moratorium, with India and South Africa being in opposition.

•Broadly, ETs consist of online deliveries such as music, e-books, films, software and video games. They differ from other cross-border e-commerce since they are ordered online but not delivered physically. 

•Proponents had put forth that the moratorium would help maintain certainty and predictability for businesses and consumers particularly in the context of the pandemic. On the other hand, India and South Africa, citing data from the UN Conference on Trade and Development (which calculates the amount of printed matter, music and video downloads, software and video games), submitted that extending duty-free market access due to the moratorium resulted in a loss of $10 billion per annum globally — 95% of which was borne by developing countries. Additionally, they had also sought more clarity on what constitutes electronic transmission.

•Customs duties have been traditionally used to avert an undesired surge in imports, allowing nascent domestic industries to remain competitive. Developing countries would need to import sizeable equipment and services for upscaling their digital capabilities. Customs duties provide the necessary capital infusion for capacity building and in turn, attempt to address the digital divide — particularly high in low-income and developing countries, further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. It is in this context that India and South Africa had sought to preserve policy space for the digital advancement of developing countries by letting them generate more revenues from customs and thereby facilitate more investment.  

What were the discussions on patent relaxations?

•Member countries agreed on authorising the use of the subject matter of a patent for producing COVID-19 vaccines by a member country, without the consent of the rights holder. Further, it asks member countries to waive requirements, including export restrictions, set forth by WTO regulations to supply domestic markets and member countries with any number of vaccines. The agreement, however, comes too little, too late for economically poorer countries.

•Several LDCs have suffered in their efforts to combat the now nearly three-year-old pandemic, owing to factors such as a stressed balance of payments situation , different levels of development, financial capabilities and varying degrees of import dependence on those products.

•Within the next six months, members are expected to decide on increasing the scope of the agreement to cover the production and supply of COVID-19 diagnostics and therapeutics as well.