Backers of IP waiver for COVID-19 drugs make fresh push at WTO

Emma Farge
·2 min read

By Emma Farge

GENEVA, Jan 19 (Reuters) - South Africa and India argued in favour of a waiver of intellectual property rights on COVID-19 drugs and vaccines at a closed-door meeting of the World Trade Organization on Tuesday but opponents showed little sign of budging, trade sources said.

Proponents of the temporary waiver as the pandemic continues to rage say that IP rules are hindering the urgent scale-up of COVID-19 vaccine production amid growing criticism of the inequitable distribution of shots.

The waiver's critics include the European Union, the United States and Switzerland, all home to major pharmaceutical companies. Some have argued that waiving IP rights does not address the manufacturing and distribution capacity problems that are currently impeding drug supplies.

Two trade sources familiar with the discussions said that there was no indication of a shift in established positions at the meeting in Geneva of the Council for Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights.

In the run-up to the talks, proponents published a 30-page response to some questions raised by opposing countries.

"One of the key reasons underlying insufficient supply and impacting procurement is the way major vaccine developers are managing their IP and technologies," the document said.

"If we allow ramping up of manufacturing, and diversifying of supply options there will be more timely and equitable distribution."

Shailly Gupta from French medical charity MSF (Doctors Without Borders) said that opposing countries seemed to be deliberately seeking to buy time.

"It is important to note that sponsors of this proposal are being repeatedly asked a similar set of questions in an attempt to stall the process," she said.

If the council agrees on a position, it will submit a proposal to the WTO's General Council, whose 164 members typically make decisions by consensus only. (Reporting by Emma Farge; editing by Stephanie Nebehay and Sonya Hepinstall)