WTO to intensify Covid vaccine supply negotiations

The NGO Doctors without Borders (MSF) has been campaigning at the World Trade Organization for a waiver on Covid-19 vaccine patents. Keystone / Martial Trezzini

World Trade Organization (WTO) member states have taken a step closer toward boosting Covid-19 vaccine supply to poorer countries.

This content was published on June 9, 2021 - 18:58

South Africa and India, supported by many emerging countries, have been pushing for a temporary waiver of intellectual property rights on vaccines and other treatments. This could allow local manufacturers to produce Covid shots and other products.

On Wednesday, following a two-day meeting, a WTO panel agreed to start a “text-based process” to bring together proposals about improving efforts to get vaccines to poorer countries via the Geneva-based WTO’s complex system of rules.

New, informal talks will start on June 17 among members of the panel, with a view to pulling together a report for a meeting of WTO ambassadors on July 21-22.

"This is a major breakthrough - after eight months of stalling," Leena Menghany, global IP adviser for medical aid group MSF, told Reuters. MSF backs a waiver.

Wealthy nations, many home to large pharmaceutical firms, have dug their heels in arguing that a waiver would not boost production and could undermine future research and development on vaccines and therapeutics.

The European Union has presented a plan, backed by Britain, Switzerland and South Korea, that instead seeks to limit export restrictions, expand production and facilitate the use of compulsory licences.

During the two-day meeting in Geneva this week, Switzerland rejected the proposal to lift intellectual property rights for at least three years. It warned that such a move would not provide any future protection for manufacturers. This would thus reduce states’ abilities to prepare for the next pandemic, it argued.

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