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Global Trade, Covıd-19

EXPLAINER: COVID-19 vaccine patents dominate global trade talks

Should COVID-19 vaccine patents be waived? World Trade Organization decisions are based on consensus, so all 164 members need to agree.

5/5/2021 7:11:00 AM

Should COVID-19 vaccine patents be waived? World Trade Organization decisions are based on consensus, so all 164 members need to agree.

Should COVID-19 vaccine patents be waived? World Trade Organization decisions are based on consensus, so all 164 members need to agree.

World Trade Organization (WTO)members will assess on Wednesday, May 5, signs of progress in talks on a proposal by South Africa and India to waive patent rights on COVID-19 vaccines in order to boost supply to developing countries.They want to ease rules of the WTO's Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS) agreement. WTO decisions are based on consensus, so all 164 members need to agree.

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Ten meetings in 7 months have failed to produce a breakthrough, with 60 proposal sponsors from emerging economies, backed by a chorus of campaign groups, Nobel laureates, and former world leaders, pitted against richer developed countries, such as Switzerland, the United States, and in the European Union, where many pharmaceutical companies are based.

Where are the talks now?After a 10th round of talks on April 30, the waiver proposal's backers said they would revise their text from October in time for the next TRIPS council meeting in the second half of May before a further discussion on June 8 to 9.

The new text could be more limited than the current proposal.Norway's ambassador Dagfinn Sorli, the council chair who will brief Wednesday's WTO General Council, expressed"careful optimism."World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus talked on Monday, May 3, of"encouraging progress," but said the process needed to be completed as soon as possible. The WHO said in April that of 700 million vaccines globally administered,

.The proponents' argumentThe Indian/South African proposal in October says property rights such as patents, industrial designs, copyright, and protection of undisclosed information hinder timely access to affordable vaccines and medicines essential to combat COVID-19.

They say the waiver should last for an unspecified time period, with an annual review until it terminates, and call for unhindered global sharing of technology and know-how.They say there cannot be a repeat of the early years of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, when a lack of access to life-saving medicines cost at least 11 million African lives.

The WHO head and 375 civil society and campaign groups such as Doctors Without Borders back the proposal and former leaders from Britain's Gordon Brown to Mikhail Gorbachev of the Soviet Union have jointly written to US President Joe Biden urging him to support it.

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