At Polarised TRIPS Meeting, Europe Continues to Oppose IP Waiver
‘Free the Vaccine’ activists in Seattle call on wealthy nations to support the WTO TRIPS Waiver.

The World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) Council for Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) remains deadlocked on the “fundamental question” of whether a waiver on intellectual property rights of COVID-related products is the best way to address equitable vaccine access during the pandemic.

This is according to a draft oral status report adopted at Tuesday’s TRIPS Council meeting, along with a WTO statement issued late Wednesday.

“Disagreement persists on the fundamental question of whether a waiver is the appropriate and most effective way to address the shortage and inequitable distribution of and access to vaccines and other COVID related products,” according to the oral statement.

Positions remain polarised between those countries that support the India-South Africa waiver proposal and the European Union’s (EU) proposal submitted on 21 June, that such a waiver is not necessary.

“The EU proposal calls for limiting export restrictions, supporting the expansion of vaccine production, and facilitating the use of current compulsory licensing provisions in the TRIPS Agreement, particularly by clarifying that the requirement to negotiate with the right holder of the vaccine patent does not apply in urgent situations such as a pandemic, among other issues,” according to a statement issued by the WTO on Wednesday.

“The two texts discussed in the TRIPS Council reflect that positions remain divergent” about the most effective way to ensure fast, equitable and affordable access to vaccines and medicines for all, according to the WTO.

Ambassador Dagfinn Sørli of Norway, the TRIPS Council chairperson, reported that text-based discussions on the waiver discussed “scope” both from the perspective of products and of IP rights, “duration”, “implementation” and “protection of undisclosed information”, said the WTO. 

“In the area of implementation, discussions focused on a number of specific questions, including transparency and provisions to limit the long-term impact of disclosure of confidential data during the waiver period.”

The waiver proposal is currently co-sponsored by Kenya, Eswatini, Mozambique, Pakistan, Bolivia, Venezuela, Mongolia, Zimbabwe, Egypt, the African Group, the Least Developed Countries Group, the Maldives, Fiji, Namibia, Vanuatu, Indonesia and Jordan.

Nine Months Later and No Progress

This means that the TRIPS General Council meeting on 27 and 28 July will not be asked to formally consider a TRIPS Waiver and negotiations on the proposal will begin again in September.

The TRIPS waiver proposal was made nine months ago, and has been discussed at numerous forums, receiving a huge boost in May when the US announced its support for an IP waiver related only to COVID-19 vaccines.

However, the EU has refused to budge, claiming that a waiver is not necessary and would jeopardise pharmaceutical industries.

World Health Organization (WHO) Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus reaffirmed his organisation’s support for the waiver at Wednesday’s High Level Dialogue with the WTO on “Expanding COVID-19 Vaccine Manufacture To Promote Equitable Access”. 

Stressing that 11 billion vaccine doses were needed to vaccinate 70% of the world’s population by next year, Tedros said this “can be done by removing the barriers to scaling up manufacturing, including through technology transfer, freeing up supply chains, and IP waivers”. 

“I want to emphasise that WHO values highly the role of the private sector in the pandemic and in every area of health. The intellectual property system plays a vital role in fostering innovation of new tools to save lives,” said Tedros.

“But this pandemic is an unprecedented crisis that demands unprecedented action. With so many lives on the line, profits and patents must come second. 

“Of course, we can’t snatch your property. What we’re proposing is for high-income countries to provide incentives to the private sector because you deserve recognition, and we don’t want you to have financial problems because of IP waiver.”

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