TRIPS waiver for COVID-19: WTO requests a revised proposal as soon as possible in order to begin negotiations

The World Trade Organization called on proponents of the proposal for temporary suspension of some TRIPS agreement provisions to submit a revised document “as soon as possible.”

The Director General of the World Trade Organization (WTO) has welcomed US Trade Representative Katherine Tai’s statement on the issue, saying she “warmly” appreciates Tai’s willingness to engage with proponents of a temporary waiver of the TRIPS agreement to assist in combating the COVID-19 pandemic. India and South Africa proposed a waiver for all World Trade Organization (WTO) members in October 2020 regarding the implementation of certain provisions of the agreement relating to the prevention, containment, or treatment of COVID-19.

TRIPS, or the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights Agreement, became effective in January 1995. It is a multilateral agreement governing intellectual property (IP) rights such as copyright, industrial designs, patents, and the protection of non-public information or trade secrets.

Only by convening together will the WTO’s member countries be able to forge a pragmatic path forward that is acceptable to all members and that expands developing countries’ access to vaccines while protecting and sustaining the research and innovation necessary to produce these life-saving vaccines. “As I told the General Council yesterday, we need to respond urgently to COVID-19 because the world is watching and people are dying,” she said. The statement, dated May 6, is available on the World Trade Organization’s website.

Over 120 countries have endorsed India and South Africa’s proposal. The EU has also stated that it is willing to discuss patent waivers. The Biden administration has decided to support the measure as a critical step in combating the pandemic by increasing the vaccines and lowering their cost for less wealthy nations. Tai announced the significant policy decision on Wednesday, stating that this is a global health crisis and the extraordinary circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic require extraordinary measures.

The proposal urged the WTO to grant a limited-time waiver (to be negotiated by the TRIPS Council) from the implementation, application, and enforcement of certain TRIPS provisions related to the prevention, containment, and treatment of COVID-19.

This waiver would ensure that intellectual property rights (such as patent, design, and copyright) do not impede rapid manufacturing scaling and equitable and affordable access to vaccines and treatments worldwide. According to a WTO statement issued on April 30, co-sponsors of the proposal have requested that the TRIPS Council’s chair, Norway’s Ambassador Dagfinn Srli, consider convening an open meeting of all members in the second half of May to discuss the revised proposal ahead of the TRIPS Council’s formal meeting scheduled for early June.

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