World Trade Organization country ambassadors plan to discuss trade rules protecting the technological know-how behind COVID-19 vaccines on Wednesday amid increasing pressure on rich countries to relax them to help countries developing to fight the pandemic.
The WTO General Council was considering a temporary waiver for intellectual property protection that South Africa and India first proposed in October. The idea has won support from the developing world and some progressive lawmakers in the West.
The authors of the proposal, which met resistance from many countries with influential pharmaceutical industries, revised it in the hope of making it more acceptable.
No consensus – required by WTO rules – was to emerge from the two-day meeting of ambassadors on Wednesday and Thursday.
The co-sponsors of the derogation idea shuttled between the various diplomatic missions to make their arguments, according to a Geneva trade official who was not authorized to speak publicly about the discussions. A stalemate persists and the opposing sides remain very distant, the official said.
Some civil society groups have expressed hope that the proposal would be approved after U.S. President Joe Biden’s chief trade official Katherine Tai said last month that gaping inequalities in access to COVID-vaccines 19 between developed and developing countries were “totally unacceptable” and that mistakes in the global response to the HIV pandemic should not be repeated.
The argument, which is part of a long-standing debate over intellectual property protection, focuses on the lifting of patents, copyright and industrial design protection and confidential information to help expand production and deployment of vaccines in the event of a supply shortage. The goal is to put the rules on hold for several years, just long enough to beat the pandemic.
The issue has become more urgent with an increase in cases in India, the world’s second most populous country and a key producer of vaccines, including one based on Western technology.
Supporters, including the head of the World Health Organization, note that such waivers are part of the WTO’s toolkit and insist there is no better time for them. use that in a once-in-a-century pandemic that claimed the lives of 3.2 million people and infected more than 437. million people and devastated economies around the world.
Opponents say a waiver would not be a panacea. They insist that the production of COVID-19 vaccines is complex and simply cannot be accelerated by facilitating intellectual property and claim that lifting protections could hinder future innovation.