G20 Leaders Promise to Share More Vaccines While EU Digs in Against TRIPS Waiver
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, who is also the ACT-Accelerator co-chair.

The G20 Global Health Summit on Friday elicited more promises from wealthy nations to share COVID-19 vaccines, an undertaking by drug companies to make over a billion doses available by year-end – and an indication by the European Union that it would propose an alternative to the TRIPS waiver at the next World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting.

Hosted by Italy and the European Commission (EC), the summit ended with the adoption of the Rome Declaration, a 16-point commitment to improving pandemic preparedness, increasing local manufacturing capacity and investing in worldwide health systems.

Team Europe – primarily France, Italy and Germany – promised to share 100 million vaccine doses with low- and middle-income countries (LMIC) by the end of the year, while Pfizer committed to manufacturing a billion vaccine doses, Johnson & Johnson 200 million and Moderna 100 million – some of which would be supplied “at cost” to poor countries.

However, the European Union stood firmly against the proposal for a waiver on intellectual property rights on COVID-19 products under the Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement during the pandemic – the TRIPS waiver proposal made by India and South Africa to the WTO.

“I’ve been listening very carefully to the developing countries…and they are complaining that it is difficult for them to use the flexibilities of TRIPS within the Doha Declaration,” EC President Ursula von der Leyen told a media briefing after the summit.

The European Union (EU) had thus decided to provide developing countries with “certainty” that they could use the flexibilities contained in the Doha Declaration during the pandemic, added Von der Leyen.

EU to Propose Third Way at WTO Meeting in June

EC President Ursula von der Leyen

The EU intends to propose a “third way” to the WTO meeting in June, based on “trade facilitation and disciplines on export restrictions, support for the expansion of production, and clarifying and simplifying the use of compulsory licences during crisis times”, she added.

“It’s important that the G20 has convened behind the Doha Declaration and the TRIPS agreement, and will work within it, with flexibilities,” she added.

The EU’s entrenched position comes despite growing support for the TRIPS waiver – including an indication by the US that it was willing to move to text-based negotiations on the proposal put forward by South Africa and India.

In addition, on Friday  62 WO members submitted a revised proposal on the WTO IP waiver “from certain provisions of the TRIPS Agreement for the Prevention, Containment and Treatment of COVID-19”, as reported by KEI International. 

The revised proposal narrows the scope of the waiver to COVID-19 “health products and technologies” and also calls for it to remain in force “for at least three years from the date of this decision” to be reviewed by the WTO General Council after that.

Despite the EU decision, WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala told the summit that WTO member states should get ready for text-based negotiations on the proposed waiver. 

“We must act now to get all our ambassadors to the table to negotiate a text. This is the only way we can move forward quickly, we can’t move forward with speeches and polemics,” she told the summit.

“I am hopeful that by July we can make progress on a text and by our 12th Ministerial Conference in December, WTO members can agree on a pragmatic framework that offers developing countries near automaticity in access to health technologies, whilst also preserving incentives for research and innovation,” she added.

However, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, who is also the co-chair of the Access to COVID-19 (ACT) Accelerator – the WHO-led global effort against COVID-19, said that “it cannot be justified that in this 21st century, Africa has only received 20 million vaccine doses, which is apparently 2% of the global supply”.

Describing the fight against the pandemic as a “war”, Ramaphosa said all countries needed weapons to fight the virus which was why his country and India had proposed a temporary TRIPS waiver.

“Such a waiver would enable developing countries, in particular, to expand their pharmaceutical sectors to facilitate technology and skills transfer, and above all, at this point in time, save lives,” said Ramaphosa.

IMF Boosts Global Reserves to Finance ‘Exit from COVID-19 Crisis’

IMF Director-General Kristalina Georgieva

IMF Director-General Kristalina Georgieva warned the summit of the “dangerous divergence of economic fortunes”, as the gap widens between wealthy countries that have access to vaccines in poor countries that do not.

The IMF estimated that $50 billion was needed to address three key issues – vaccinating 60% of the world’s population by 2022; protection against variants, including possible booster shots; and public health measures to manage the pandemic while vaccinations were taking place.

With the support of our membership, we are working towards making an important contribution to the exit from this crisis by boosting global reserves with $650 billion special drawing rights — particularly important for countries faced with the toughest challenges.  We are stepping up lending where needed, and we are working on debt sustainability,” said Georgieva.

“Pledges today from a handful of countries are welcome, but the world remains in the grip of a devastating global emergency. It demands bold, collective action. Today, global leaders of the G20 missed this critical opportunity,” said Alex Harris, Wellcome Trust’s Director of Government Relations.

“The moment has passed for warm words and piecemeal contributions – we need courageous, united leadership from countries that can most afford to help others. Next month’s G7 Summit is an historic opportunity to do this. It must not be wasted,” he added.

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