G-20 health deal splits over COVID IP waiver
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Law360 (May 21, 2021, 9:00 p.m. EDT) – Leaders of the world’s largest economies, including Vice President Kamala Harris, reached an agreement on Friday to support voluntary licensing of intellectual property covering COVID vaccines- 19, in a move that shows many countries are still reluctant to support a US-backed World Trade Organization proposal to waive intellectual property rights.
A statement issued in Rome at the end of an international health summit did not mention the proposal to waive certain aspects of the Council’s Agreement on Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights, or TRIPS , and instead focused on ways in which members of the G-20 could operate “cohesively” under the treaty.
The statement contradicted U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai announcement earlier this month that the Biden administration would now support an India-South Africa-led effort to waive parts of the TRIPS agreement in order to make COVID-19 vaccines more widely available.
Instead, Friday’s deal focused on commitments to existing international vaccine distribution efforts, like the World Health Organization’s COVAX initiative, and only supported “the use of tools such as voluntary intellectual property licensing agreements, voluntary transfers of technology and know-how, and the pooling of patents on terms. “
While Harris did not address the waiver in her public remarks, WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who followed her, did.
“We must act now to bring all the ambassadors to the table to negotiate a text,” Okonjo-Iweala said on Friday of the TRIPS waiver.
“I hope that by July we can move forward on a text,” Okonjo-Iweala said, adding that by December she hoped that “members can agree on a pragmatic framework that offers countries in development of virtual automation in access to innovation while preserving incentives for research and innovation. “
Humanitarian groups who have supported the proposed WTO waiver have condemned the collective G-20 decision to support only voluntary measures.
“According to current vaccine distribution plans, less developed countries will not receive enough doses to achieve widespread coverage until at least 2023 – and millions of people will continue to die,” said Tamaryn Nelson, Amnesty’s health adviser International, in response to a first draft of Friday’s deal.
Nelson said the biggest opponents of the waiver came from G-20 members in Western Europe, namely the UK and the EU, which are home to major COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers, AstraZeneca PLC and BioNTech SE.
Supporters of the WTO waiver released their latest draft proposed deal on Friday. At the end of last month, TRIPS Council Ambassador Dagfinn Sørli of Norway announced that supporters of the proposal were revise their proposal in order to find common ground and in anticipation of the next official meeting of the international trade organization on the subject in early June.
According to the text of the last proposal, intellectual property protection would be lifted for at least three years from the entry into force of the agreement, and it would cover all “health products and technologies” used “for prevention, treatment or containment of COVID. 19. “
This keeps the proposal at odds, however, with Tai’s endorsement language. Tai had reduced U.S. support to just waiving “protections for COVID-19 vaccines,” and since then she has faced skepticism of Republican members of Congress who even called the decision a “gift to China.”
– Additional reporting by Ryan Davis. Edited by Nicole Bleier.
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