Battle between Europe and poorer WTO countries for vaccine patents

It is not often that the World Trade Organization receives a petition signed by Sharon Stone and George Clooney. The WTO, a Lake Geneva organization that mainly settles trade disputes, is not usually a club that stirs celebrities. Now that’s different. The WTO on Monday received an online petition calling for the suspension of patents on corona vaccines, signed by 2.7 million people.

“We urgently call on you to make access to life-protective Covid-19 vaccines, treatments and equipment available to everyone in the world,” reads the petition, an initiative of an alliance of organizations including Oxfam and Amnesty International. The handover was strategically planned: one day before the consultation within the WTO on the temporary incapacitation of patents on corona vaccines.

The discussion about this has gained momentum since the United States suddenly declared at the beginning of May that it was prepared to suspend the patents. If the patents expire, the vaccines could be manufactured anywhere in the world, which should address the dire shortages in poor countries.

Africa far behind with vaccines

In Africa, only 2 percent of the population has received at least one dose of a corona vaccine, in Asia 7 percent, compared to over 51 percent in the US and over 43 percent in the European Union, according to the site. Our World in Data.

However, the fact that the patents will actually be suspended within the WTO is becoming more unlikely, as emerged this week. The reality in Geneva is unruly. All 164 WTO member states must agree to a waiver (suspension) and consensus is still a long way off.

At the center of the discussions is a proposal by India and South Africa, supported by a group of poor and developing countries, to suspend the patents for at least three years. Not only on vaccines, but also on personal protective equipment against Covid-19 and on diagnostics.

This proposal was opposed on Tuesday and Wednesday from the EU, the United Kingdom, Switzerland and South Korea, who believe that infringement of patents would harm innovation in vaccine development. The EU submitted a counter-proposal, which revolves around licensing. With licenses, other manufacturers would make the vaccines of, for example, Pfizer and Janssen. The pharmaceutical companies would keep their patents and receive compensation for the license. If pharmaceuticals do not want to cooperate, the EU wants to use compulsory licenses.

Ambiguous attitude VS

The US, sources in Geneva say, expressed no support for the India-South African proposal, despite their statement made in early May. The enormous media attention that the Americans then generated – before that the US was on the line with the EU – has not yet led to fervent US pleas at the WTO for the release of the patents. Instead, the US delegation advocated pragmatic solutions, without, incidentally, supporting the European counter-proposal.

All delegations to the WTO agreed to open negotiations on a joint text on intellectual property related to Covid-19. It should be available by the end of this year. But because there are now two proposals, which are far from each other, it is by no means certain whether there will be a text in which the word waiver will stand. Nor will it be easy for the EU to gain broad support for its position. Poorer countries believe that licenses do not work in practice – otherwise they would already be widely used effectively.

A majority of the European Parliament voted on Thursday to let go of the patents, but the European Commission and the member states clearly think otherwise. They give priority to their relationship with the European pharmaceutical sector, which attaches great importance to patents.

Whether the Americans will really be happy with the temporary cancellation of the patents of ‘their’ companies such as Pfizer and Moderna, remains to be seen. Instead, Europe and the US seem to want to make the protracted discussion in the WTO superfluous by promising to supply a lot of vaccines to the poor countries. The G7 countries will collectively donate a billion vaccines, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Friday during the G7 summit he chaired. Earlier this week, the US pledged half a billion vaccines. Together with the EU, BioNTech wants to produce vaccines in Africa, the company announced on Friday. With retention of the patents.

Battle between Europe and poorer WTO countries for vaccine patents
Source link Battle between Europe and poorer WTO countries for vaccine patents

Back to top button