Leading negotiators reach ‘outcome’ on COVID-19 vaccine intellectual property waiver – WTO
World Trade Organization Director General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has been working for months to broker a compromise between the United States, European Union, India and South Africa.
GENEVA, Switzerland – The four main parties to negotiations on an intellectual property waiver for COVID-19 vaccines have prepared an “outcome document” for approval by all members, the World Trade Organization (WTO) has said. on Tuesday May 3, with its leader in the hope of a final agreement by June.
WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who has made vaccine fairness her top priority since taking office in 2021, has been working for months to negotiate a compromise between the United States, the European Union, India and South Africa to break an 18 – month stalemate.
“The goal of the talks was to come up with something achievable,” Okonjo-Iweala told Reuters, saying she hoped the WTO’s 164 members would finalize and approve the proposal at a major conference in June. “This will move the discussion and dialogue forward. For the next pandemic or an outbreak of it, this is extremely important,” she said.
The document showed that there remained unresolved points in the draft agreement, in particular on the duration of the application of the derogation, which could be three or five years.
Okonjo-Iweala said recent negotiations had focused on gaining broader support for the proposal, including from China. She said Beijing had indicated it was “favourably willing” to be considered a developed country in this agreement and therefore subject to stricter rules. China’s mission to the WTO in Geneva did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
All 164 WTO members must accept the deal by consensus for it to pass and the matter will be raised at a closed-door meeting in Geneva on Friday May 6. One delegate said it would be essential for the four major parties to come out strongly in support publicly in order to convince the others. “Otherwise, doubts will persist and other members will remain hesitant,” he said.
Maria Pagan, the top US trade negotiator in Geneva, said the United States had worked constructively with other WTO members to “facilitate discussions and bridge differences that could lead to an outcome” that could reach a consensus.
Although conceding success was not assured, Pagan said the United States would continue to work with Congress and other stakeholders to provide as many safe and effective vaccines to “as many people as possible” while the WTO members were reviewing the text.
In previous sessions, the UK and Switzerland – which have opposed a broad waiver on the grounds that it stifles pharmaceutical research – have complained about the lack of transparency in the quadripartite talks.
The medical association MSF urged countries to reject the proposal.
“It does not provide a meaningful solution to making it easier for people to access necessary medical tools during the pandemic…and would actually set a negative precedent for future global health challenges,” he said. – Rappler.com