Weekly Policy Update: TRIPS Waiver for COVID-19 Vaccines and Treatments Remains Under Consideration by the World Trade Organization
By: Colorado BioScience Association Date: 12/03/2021
CBSA continues to monitor the international debate on the Trade-Relations Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Waiver. Our monitoring of the waiver is due the harmful precedent waving of IP protections would have within the biotech sector for years to come. This is addition to the fact the wavier would be ineffective and counterproductive in the accelerating the global response to the pandemic. These points were outlined in a declaration the Association along with 300 other global biotechnology companies and associations, signed onto earlier this year. CBSA’s outreach has included a special opinion piece published in the Colorado Sun this past June. The column emphasized that IP protections are essential to the technology transfer process in life sciences that leads from lab invention to life-saving commercial products.
Current Situation: WTO Conference Postponed
The World Trade Organization’s (WTO) 12th Ministerial Conference (MC 12) was scheduled to begin in Geneva on November 30 and run through December 3. However, the conference was indefinitely postponed due to the recent discovery of the Omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus. The postponement of the conference delayed what would have been significant debate on India and South Africa’s proposal for a TRIPS waiver to wave IP protections for COVID-19 vaccines and treatments.
The waiver, which was first offered over a year ago by both countries, is supported by 64 sponsoring governments, with more than 134 countries supporting overall. While the Biden administration had announced support for the proposal, firm opposition from the UK, Germany, and Switzerland have left negotiations at an impasse in recent months.
BIO’s Advocacy for a Strong Innovation Ecosystem
Ahead of MC 12, BIO and the International Council of Biotechnology Associations (ICBA) went to Geneva to discuss potential solutions to the waiver meeting with WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), and World Health Organization (WHO) leadership. BIO President & CEO Dr. Michelle McMurry-Heath commented that, “Our meetings with the WHO, WTO, and country representatives made a major impact because BIO and our global sister associations presented a united front advocating for a strong innovation ecosystem.” Steve Bates, Chair of the ICBA, additionally noted that “Global IP did not block but has enabled the rapid scale-up of COVID vaccine production for the globe”.
Next Steps: An Alternative Proposal Offered
With the postponement of MC 12, the TRIPS Council held a formal meeting on November 29 and in a statement after the meeting, the WTO noted that member countries expressed unanimous support for maintaining the momentum of the discussions on a common intellectual property response to the global pandemic. The chair of the Council, Ambassador Dagfinn Sørli of Norway, is now planning on convening small group consultations to build consensus on a substantive solution. And if there is a movement with the ongoing negations the Council has reserved meeting times for mid-December to reconvene as a full body.
During the meeting, the Council also kept the door open for a counter proposal from the European Union, this proposal directs the WTO’s General Council to emphasize the need to use flexibilities such as compulsory licensing, already part of the TRIPS provisions, to ensure production and supply of affordable COVID-19 vaccines and treatments. In comparison, the proposal from India and South Africa calls for a minimum three-year waiver of TRIPS provisions in relation to health products and technologies, including diagnostics, therapeutics, vaccines, medical devices, personal protective equipment, their materials or components, and their methods and means of manufacture for the prevention, treatment of COVID-19.
CBSA advocates for a supportive, pro-innovation business climate for life sciences. We support proposals to strengthen the ability of patent owners to defend their inventions and businesses against infringement.