EU and London still skeptical about lifting patents on vaccines

The European Union, Britain and Japan have maintained their reservations about a possible lifting of patents on vaccines against Covid-19 at a meeting of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), a representative of the trade body said Monday.

Proposals to start text-based talks to waive intellectual property rights on coronavirus vaccines were welcomed at an informal WTO meeting on the trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights.

But several member states “continued to express doubts about the desirability of starting negotiations and asked for more time” to analyse the proposals, the official said.

These countries include the EU as well as Australia, Japan, Norway, Singapore, South Korea, Switzerland and Taiwan.

Agreements within the WTO must be supported by consensus of all 164 member states.

The disagreement isn’t new – the European Commission defended using compulsory licences rather than lifting patents on Covid-19 vaccines in May, calling the United States’ stance in favour of the latter “a nice media stunt” considering that the country “exports almost no vaccines or vaccine components.”

South Africa and India are campaigning for a waiver of intellectual property rights on coronavirus vaccines, so that each country can produce doses.

Those two countries have submitted a revised proposal to this effect, which has received the support of 63 member states at the WTO.

In addition to lifting patents on vaccines, the proposal seeks to extend this to treatments, diagnostics, medical devices and protective equipment, as well as materials and components needed to manufacture vaccines. This intellectual property waiver is to last for at least three years, before the WTO General Council decides whether to extend this period, according to the text of the proposal.

But differences persist over whether – and to what extent – intellectual property rights protection prevents the effective control of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Differences also concern the possibility of using or improving the flexibilities that already exist within the WTO’s Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement.

Questions remain about the duration and timeframe of such a waiver of intellectual property rights, the official said.

Pakistan, Argentina, Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia and Kenya are some of the countries seeking to launch negotiations, they added.

The EU, on the other hand, said the priority was to increase production and lift export restrictions on vaccine components.

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