US relents, announces support for COVID-19 vaccine patent waiver as proposed by India, South Africa

Washington’s changed stance was announced by US Trade Representative Katherine Tai

US relents, announces support for COVID-19 vaccine patent waiver as proposed by India, South Africa

Image only for representational purposes. Tribune photo.

Sandeep Dikshit
Tribune News Service
New Delhi, May 6

The United States has relented to the six-month-old joint proposal of India and South Africa at the WTO asking for a temporary waiver of intellectual property (IP) rights on Covid vaccines and drugs.

If the European Union, the other major party blocking the waiver at WTO, also agrees to a temporary waiver, many countries can quickly produce vaccines and life-saving medicines. They need not wait for the formalities and incur costs on patents and other IP-related rights to Covid-19 drugs, vaccines, and other treatments.

However, this will not happen soon. Negotiations will take time because of the complexity of the issues involved and also because the decision at WTO has to be unanimously adopted.

Washington’s changed stance was announced by US Trade Representative (USTR) Katherine Tai in a statement.

“The [US] Administration’s aim is to get as many safe and effective vaccines to as many people as fast as possible.  As our vaccine supply for the American people is secured, the Administration will continue to ramp up its efforts – working with the private sector and all possible partners – to expand vaccine manufacturing and distribution.  It will also work to increase the raw materials needed to produce those vaccines,” she said while ``announcing the Biden-Harris Administration’s support for waiving intellectual property protections for Covid vaccines’’.

“This is a global health crisis, and the extraordinary circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures.  The Administration believes strongly in intellectual property protections, but in service of ending this pandemic, supports the waiver of those protections for COVID-19 vaccines,’’ she added.

India and South Africa, later joined by other countries including Pakistan, have been arguing before the WTO that IP rights could hinder the supply of vaccines and drugs at affordable prices. At a time when production needs to be scaled up, there should be “a waiver from the implementation, application, and enforcement of patents, copyright and trademarks’’ in Covid related areas.

Tai said the US will actively participate in text-based negotiations at the WTO “to make that happen”. 

The WTO will have to decide whether the waiver under Articles IX.3 and IX.4 should be granted to an individual country or collectively. WTO has provided waivers under both modes in the past.

 

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