(Geneva) The European Union, the United Kingdom and Japan have retained their reservations regarding the possible waivers of patents for COVID-19 vaccines at the WTO, a trade organization said Monday.
Proposals to start discussions based on specific texts to waive intellectual property rights for coronavirus vaccines were welcomed at the World Trade Organization (WTO) Informal Meeting on Commercial Intellectual Property Rights.
But several member countries “continued to express doubts about the advisability of starting negotiations and asked for more time” to analyze proposals in this direction, the official said.
These are the EU countries, as well as Australia, Japan, Norway, Singapore, South Korea, Switzerland and Taiwan.
WTO agreements must be supported by consensus of all 164 member states.
South Africa and India are spearheading a campaign to ditch intellectual property rights for coronavirus vaccines so that each country can produce doses.
These two countries presented a revised proposal in this direction, which received the support of 63 WTO member states. In addition to canceling vaccine patents, the proposal seeks to extend it to treatment, diagnostics, medical devices and protective equipment, and materials and components needed to make vaccines. This exemption from intellectual property rights must last at least three years before the WTO General Council decides on the need to extend this period in accordance with the text of this proposal.
But controversy persists over whether and to what extent intellectual property rights protection hinders an effective response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
They also relate to the possibility of using or improving the flexibility already existing in the Agreement on the Trade Dimension of Intellectual Property of the WTO, known by the acronym TRIPS.
Questions also remain about the duration and deadline for such waiver of intellectual property rights, the official further explained.
He added that Pakistan, Argentina, Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia and Kenya are among the countries willing to start negotiations.
On the contrary, the EU stated that the priority was rather to increase production and remove restrictions on the export of vaccine components.
Switzerland, where there are many pharmaceutical companies, believes that the WTO should rather explore the flexibilities already in the TRIPS agreement before abandoning it altogether.
The United States has said it is open to negotiating any proposal to address the current vaccine shortage. China, for its part, has indicated its willingness to move forward on this dossier, since an initial proposal on this issue was submitted last October.
The new TRIPS Council meeting will take place on June 8-9.
AFP estimates that more than 1.9 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccine have already been administered worldwide. But only 0.3% of that total was in the 29 poorest countries in the world, home to 9% of the world’s population.
Proponents of abolishing vaccine patents believe this will significantly increase production in the poorest countries.
Rich countries and their pharmaceutical industries have always opposed this, but their positions have changed in favor of changing the attitude of the United States, which is now ready to consider abolishing patents. Several countries, including France, seem to have joined this position.
Vaccine patents for COVID-19 “should in no way slow down” the immunization of the population, French President Emmanuel Macron said last Friday during a visit to South Africa.