U.S. Trade Rep Will Press WTO for IP Framework for COVID-19 Vaccines Despite Meeting Postponement
In a pair of tweets, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai said the U.S. would persist in pressing for members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) to move ahead with an intellectual property framework for COVID-19 vaccines. This, after an important in-person WTO ministerial meeting this week was postponed due to the fast-spreading Omicron variant.
"The United States will continue working with @WTO members to achieve a multifaceted outcome on trade and health, including an international IP framework, that supports the global pandemic response and puts the WTO in a stronger position to meet the needs of regular people," Tai said in one of her tweets.
The WTO’s 12th ministerial meeting — scheduled for Nov. 30 to Dec. 3 — was canceled because new travel restrictions would have prevented many ministers from reaching the meeting in Geneva. It has not been rescheduled.
The WTO's Director-General, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, said that she wanted negotiations to continue despite no in-person travel.
Last week, the European Union appeared to have reversed its previous stance on intellectual property (IP) waivers for COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics. Instead of threatening to veto IP waivers in ongoing WTO negotiations, it's now backing them (DID, Nov. 29).
“We are [now] advocating for a targeted waiver on compulsory licenses,” said European Commissioner for Trade Valdis Dombrovskis, adding that a targeted waiver compromise “could facilitate production of vaccines and other essential health products, which are key for regions such as Africa, while preserving incentives for innovation and investment.”
The EU had previously supported a proposal by the G20 nations for voluntary rather than compulsory licensing — which also won support from the Biden administration — while suggesting that compulsory licensing is legal for governments during a crisis under existing international agreements (DID, June 2).
In February, more than 100 nongovernmental organizations urged the WTO to extend a waiver of IP rights to help developing nations access COVID-19 treatments and vaccines during the pandemic (DID, Feb 9). — Suz Redfearn