US Wants WTO to Delay Decision on TRIPS Waiver Extension for COVID-19 Tests and Treatment
US Trade Representative Katherine Tai 

The US Trade Representative’s (USTR) office announced on Tuesday that it supports extending the deadline on whether the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Ministerial Decision on the TRIPS Agreement should be extended to COVID-19 diagnostics and therapeutics.

Trade ministers adopted the Ministerial Decision on the TRIPS Agreement in June, giving members scope to diversify the production of COVID-19 vaccines and override the exclusive effect of patents through a targeted waiver over the next five years.

The TRIPS Council has been discussing whether this should be extended to COVID-19 diagnostics and therapeutics.

The US decision was informed by wide-ranging consultations over the past five months with over 24 groups with opposing views on the issue, the USTR said in a statement.

While all these groups “shared a concern with saving lives, and with striking a balance between the need to promote innovation in these sectors and the need to promote access to the products of innovation”, there were “key differences”.  

In light of the differing views, the USTR will ask the US International Trade Commission (USITC) to “launch an investigation into COVID-19 diagnostics and therapeutics and provide information on market dynamics to help inform the discussion around supply and demand, price points, the relationship between testing and treating, and production and access”, the USTR said in a statement.

“Over the past five months, USTR officials held robust and constructive consultations with Congress, government experts, a wide range of stakeholders, multilateral institutions, and WTO Members,” said Ambassador Katherine Tai. 

“Real questions remain on a range of issues, and the additional time, coupled with information from the USITC, will help the world make a more informed decision on whether extending the Ministerial Decision to COVID-19 therapeutics and diagnostics would result in increased access to those products,” added Tai.

“Transparency is critical and USTR will continue to consult with Congress, stakeholders, and others as we continue working to end the pandemic and support the global economic recovery.”

Those in favour of extending the Ministerial agreement “acknowledge a lack of global demand for COVID-19 products, but they believe that market dynamics are suppressing effective demand”, according to the USTR.

Opponents’ concerns include that the extension would “allow countries with anti-competitive approaches to innovation, such as China” to “unfairly obtain and use American innovation to benefit their domestic economies”, harming “American industry and workers by undermining investment and research and development”.

The USITC study will explore key issues including:

  • An overview of the products, focusing on WHO-approved COVID-19 diagnostics and therapeutics, including key components, the production process, intellectual property protections, and the supply chain (including the level of diversification in the supply chain);
  • The global manufacturing industry for these products, including information on key producing countries, major firms, and production data, if available;
  • The global market for COVID-19 diagnostics and therapeutics, including information on demand and, to the extent practicable, an assessment of where unmet demand exists for key products and contributing factors; market segmentation; and supply accumulation and distribution;
  • Data and information on global trade in COVID-19 diagnostics and therapeutics, if available, or if not, data and information on global trade in diagnostics and therapeutics generally; and
  • A brief overview of the relevant aspects of the TRIPS Agreement and the UN  Medicine Patent Pool (MPP) and a listing of countries seeking to use the Ministerial Decision and those utilizing access to COVID-19 medicines under the MPP.

Meanwhile, the US reaffirmed the right of its trading partners to “exercise the full range of existing flexibilities in the TRIPS Agreement, such as in Articles 30, 31, and 31bis, and the Doha Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health, as well as the flexibilities in the Ministerial Decision”. 

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