Weekly Policy Update: TRIPS Waiver Update
By: Colorado BioScience Association Date: 04/01/2022
Colorado BioScience Association continues to monitor the international debate on the Trade-Relations Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Waiver, due the harmful precedent the waiving of IP protections would set for the biotech sector. Additionally, the waiver would be ineffective and counterproductive in accelerating the global response to the pandemic. These points were outlined in a declaration that CBSA, along with 300 other global biotechnology companies and associations, signed onto in 2021. 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: Tentative Compromise Reached
A tentative compromise reached by the EU, the U.S, India, and South Africa on a TRIPS Waiver for COVID-19 vaccines has not been well received by international healthcare advocacy groups. The common theme is that the draft proposal falls short of the original waiver and needs to be drastically improved. Doctors Without Borders noted that the “…current text requires substantive revision and improvement, to avoid setting a harmful precedent for future public health challenges.” In a statement on reports of a proposed deal on the COVID-19 vaccine IP rights waive, BIO’s Chief Policy Officer John Murphy said, “…the irrational fixation on weakening IP is simply a distraction from the real challenge of overcoming global vaccine hesitancy, removing actual trade barriers, and helping countries to strengthen their healthcare infrastructure so that we can get more shots in arms.”
The agreement authorizes eligible WTO members to use patented ingredients and processes for the production and supply of COVID-19 vaccines without the consent of the right holder. The draft text says that WTO members will decide on its extension to cover COVID-19 diagnostics and therapeutics no later than six months from the date of the decision on vaccines. The duration of the waiver is also still not agreed on and could be for a three-year or five-year period. The draft proposal also stipulates that only developing countries in the WTO with less than 10% of world exports of COVID-19 vaccines in 2021 would be eligible, which excludes countries such as China.
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 for over 18 months.
Next Steps: Consensus Needed
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, WTO director-general, noted that the details of the compromise still need to be resolved and that consensus among the 164 member countries of the WTO is necessary for the waiver to move forward. Once the proposal is formally submitted to the WTO secretariat, members are expected to discuss its contents and possible changes in the TRIPS Council.