WTO Expresses Optimism Over IP Waiver Agreement But Protestors Call for ‘Real TRIPS Waiver’
Protestors in New York City.

World Trade Organization (WTO) leaders are hopeful that an agreement could be reached on a waiver on intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines at the Ministerial Council starting on Sunday – but the People’s Vaccine Alliance has organised global protests to demand “a real TRIPS waiver” ahead of the meeting.

WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has expressed “cautious optimism” that agreement on the IP waiver is possible at the council, according to WTO spokesperson Daniel Pruzin.

Speaking at a media briefing on Tuesday following a special meeting of the WTO General Council earlier in the day, Pruzin said that Ambassador Lansana Gberie, chair of the TRIPS Council, which is leading discussions on the waiver and the WTO’s response to the pandemic, was also optimistic.

According to Gberie, delegations “entered into real negotiation mode [on Monday] in an effort to try to iron out their differences, particularly with regards to the waiver discussions,” said Pruzin.

A small group meeting of the TRIPS Council on the waiver resumed negotiations on Tuesday evening.

Too little, too late?

On 3 May, Okonjo-Iweala put forward an “outcome document” on the waiver that had emerged from discussions with “the Quad” – the European Union, India, South Africa and the US.

According to the WTO, the Quad adopted a “problem-solving approach aimed at identifying practical ways of clarifying, streamlining and simplifying how governments can override patent rights, under certain conditions, to enable diversification of production of COVID-19 vaccines”.

However, there are still some sticking points on the proposal, even within the Quad, and the proposal has been widely condemned by health activists for being too little, too late. 

An IP waiver proposal for all COVID-related technology was first put on the table over 18 months ago by India and South Africa during the height of the pandemic when vaccines were in short supply. 

The current agreement is confined to COVID-19 vaccines, and it is being negotiated when there is a global glut of vaccines.

The People’s Vaccine Alliance is planning global protests during the week aimed at pressuring US and European countries to “end COVID monopolies” and “deliver a real TRIPS waiver”, the global network announced on Tuesday.

“The WTO is having its biggest meeting since the start of the pandemic. Feeling the pressure to do something on COVID, WTO leaders have introduced a bogus new proposal that not only fails to remove WTO barriers to COVID medicine accessibility, but actually introduces new obstacles,” according to the alliance.

Other big WTO agenda items

Other big items on the agenda of the WTO Ministerial Council are a reduction in fishing subsidies, agricultural trade reform and reform of the WTO itself, including more regular ministerial meetings.

Pruzin said the “significant progress” had been made on the fishing subsidies proposal, which has been negotiated for a number of years, and on  possible ministerial declaration on WTO’s response to the pandemic,

“There are still some very important differences which remain in the texts, and I think all the chairs recognise this, be it fisheries, be it agriculture, be in other areas as well,” said Pruzin.

“But I think it’s fair to say that the atmosphere is much better than it has been in some time. I think there’s some good momentum going into the final preparations.”

Image Credits: People's Vaccine Alliance.

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