With more and more influential factions within the US now supporting India and South Africa’s request to the WTO to temporary waive the TRIPS agreement, it looks like the pressure is on Biden to reconsider the Trump administration’s initial move to block the motion.
The Joe Biden administration is being called upon to support a move by India and South Africa before the World Trade Organization (WTO) to temporarily waive some of the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).
According to several media reports more than 60 US representatives along with and a large number of rights and non-profit pharma bodies have collectively written to Biden to announce support for the TRIPS waiver, which was initiated by India, South Africa, along with several other countries urged the WTO to approve a time-limited waiver of the TRIPS agreement so that greater supplies of COVID-19 vaccines and diagnostic tests can be produced globally.
At present White House officials have confirmed that President Biden is considering supporting the move.
What is the TRIPS agreement?
The TRIPS Agreement, negotiated during the 1986-94 Uruguay Round, is the most comprehensive legal agreement on Intellectual property rights. It recognises the significance of links between intellectual property and trade intellectual property within the multilateral trading system.
According to the WTO, “the TRIPS Agreement plays a critical role in facilitating trade in knowledge and creativity, in resolving trade disputes over intellectual property, and in assuring WTO members the latitude to achieve their domestic objectives.”
It covers the following areas:
how general provisions and basic principles of the multilateral trading system apply to international intellectual property
what the minimum standards of protection are for intellectual property rights that members should provide
which procedures members should provide for the enforcement of those rights in their own territories
how to settle disputes on intellectual property between members of the WTO
special transitional arrangements for the implementation of TRIPS provisions
Why it matters?
The TRIPS agreement while protecting Intellectual property rights, such as patents and trade secrets also allows for a select group of private companies to exclusively produce, use and sell the covid-19 vaccines. The mounting infection rates and mortality numbers across the world at the moment highlight an urgent need for a massive scaling up of vaccine production and distribution in order to control and check the spread of infection. However, the IP rights currently give the select handful of companies producing vaccines the monopoly, severely putting a cap on the scale of production, distribution and sale.
India, South Africa and over a hundred other countries are therefore urging the WTO for a temporary waiver of the TRIPS Agreement.
According to Rachel Thrasher, Research Fellow at the Global Development Policy Centre in Boston the waiver will be beneficial for both developing as well as developed countries who are currently opposed to it.
The financial costs to all countries during the pandemic far exceed just paying for the research and development, treatments and vaccines. It also extends to economic impacts felt through supply chain disruptions rooted in growing inequality within and between countries, likely costing around $9.2 trillion dollars, half of which would be borne by a handful of developed economies.
In addition, the current projected timeline for vaccinations suggest that many will have to wait at least three, and up to seven, years for substantial global immunity through vaccines, leaving low-income countries hopelessly behind.
The appeal to waive the TRIPS agreement was first made in February 2021 but the US, together with the EU, UK, Japan and Australia blocked the motion. Another request for a temporary waiver was then made again by India and South Africa with more and more countries then backing it. Currently, the US and European Commission are still blocking this request.
If Biden supports the temporary waiver, it will be a huge shot in the arm, tipping the majority in favour of upscaling vaccine production globally.
The status so far
At present the US is only considering supporting the waiver, with two distinct camps in favour and against. According to ET, pharma companies and the US Chambers of Commerce have opposed any move to support India and South Africa at the WTO.
However, According to Mint, lawmakers –Rosa DeLauro, Jan Schakowsky, Earl Blumenauer, Lloyd Doggett, Adriano Espaillat, and Andy Levin -- urged President Biden to support the emergency temporary waiver at the WTO as requested by countries led by India and South Africa.
As we see every day, the Covid-19 pandemic knows no borders. Our globalised systems cannot recover if only parts of the world are vaccinated and have protection against the virus. We must make vaccines available everywhere if we are going to crush the virus anywhere, and we need to make public policy choices, both in the US and at the WTO, that put people first," DeLauro said.
USTR spokesman Adam Hodge told CNBC, “As part of rebuilding our alliances, we are exploring every avenue to coordinate with our global partners and are evaluating the efficacy of this specific proposal by its true potential to save lives.”
While ET reported that, “House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has also written a letter to Biden in this regard supporting the cause of the progressive members of her party, who now enjoy considerable influence in the Democratic Party.”
With more and more influential factions within the US now supporting the temporary waiver, it looks like the pressure is on Biden to reconsider the Trump administration’s initial move to block the motion.