New Wave Of Appeals For WTO Waiver On IP For COVID Treatments Ahead of TRIPS Council Meeting
A South African protest, Tuesday 2 February 2021, calling on the US and EU to support a World Trade Organization ” TRIPS” waiver on patents and other IP related to all COVID-19 drugs, vaccines, diagnostics.

Nearly 400 members of the European Parliament (MEPs) and of national parliaments from across the European Union issued a joint appeal Tuesday calling for the European Commission to drop its opposition to a proposed WTO waiver on IP related to COVID-19 health technologies for the duration of the pandemic, being co-sponsored by India and South Africa.

The proposed IP waiver is due to be debated once again Friday, 30 April, by the WTO’s TRIPS Council, which oversees the Trade Related Agreement on Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights that govern global IP rules.

Proponents are pushing for the Council to move to “text based” negotiations on the draft waiver proposal, as a means ot advancing the initiative through TRIPS Council approval, so that it could go before the entire WTO General Council later this year.

But those moves continue to be opposed by the Europe, the United Kingdom, the United States and other industrialized countries – along with pharma industry voices that have stressed that manufacturing capacity – and not IP – are the key barriers to faster vaccine scale up.

“We stand with the Director-General of the World Health Organization, over 100 national governments, hundreds of civil society organizations, and trade unions, and join them in urging the European Commission and EU member states to discuss at the highest levels and support the temporary waiver of certain obligations under the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).

“The waiver proposed by South Africa and India would facilitate the sharing of all intellectual property and know-how. It will lift IP monopolies, remove legal uncertainty, and provide the freedom to operate to enable collaboration to increase
and speed up the availability, accessibility and affordability of COVID-19 vaccines, tests, and treatments globally,” stated the letter by MEPs.

“Variants show how no one is safe until everybody is safe. We need more vaccines quickly. Lifting patents and transferring technology are absolutely key to ramping up vaccine production. Private profit should never stand in the way of public health,” said MEP Marc Botenga, of the European Parliament’s “Left group.”

MEP Call Among Spate of Recent Initiatives

The call by MEPs was just one among a number of recent initiatives, including one by a group of Brazilian parliamentarians, addressed to WTO’s new director general Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, and another by US civil society groups targeting US President Joe Biden.

In a closed-door WTO meeting involving pharma and global health leaders, convened by Iweala in mid April, the focus was also on tech transfer and supply chain strengthening as “third way” options out of the crisis.  However, in the meantime, India has all but halted its export of COVID vaccines to countries in Africa and elsewhere, in the face of a huge increase in COVID cases. And that has amplified civil society calls upon global leaders to act more assertively – calls that could also reverberate in the next round of TRIPS Council discussions.

In related moves, the United States appeal, issued by some by some 66 US health and development groups, called upon President Biden to jump start an “urgent manufacturing program to help provide billlions of additional COVID-19 vaccine doses to the world” including open sharing of mRNA vaccine technology that has been the basis for the most effective vaccines produced so far – currently by Pfizer and Moderna.

The letter to Ngozi by Brazilian parliamentarians, meanwhile, was written to protest the opposition of the rightist government of Brazilian President Jair Bolsanaro to the IP waiver – a policy stance that the parliamentarians said goes against Brazil long tradition of public health advocacy.

Image Credits: Peoples Health Movement.

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