130 social justice groups call on the WTO to adopt a patent waiver

A group of more than 130 national and international civil society organizations ask the World Trade Organization to postpone its next ministerial meeting unless it first agrees to adopt a patent waiver for Covid vaccines -19 seen by social justice activists as crucial to end “vaccine apartheid”.

The groups presented their request in an open letter to WTO members just ahead of the 12th in-person ministerial conference due to start on November 30 in Geneva, the latest sign of growing pressure on rich countries – including the United States – to act in a way urgently needed to end the pandemic.

Authors of the new letter include international groups such as Focus on the Global South and Friends of the Earth International as well as national groups such as the Ghana Trade and Livelihood Coalition and the Colombian Association for Environment and Society.

The WTO, according to the letter, is “in crisis” and “has absolutely failed to resolve vaccine apartheid which is the direct result of the monopolies that its Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights ( TRIPS) confers on multinational pharmaceutical companies. companies that have benefited from massive public subsidies.

A widely supported TRIPS waiver proposal, opposed by a handful of countries including Germany and the UK and which needs consensus to pass, has gone without adoption for over a year so that vaccine inequality has worsened, the groups lament.

The letter supports opposition to this waiver on “the shameful refusal of a handful of powerful governments” and says it “confirms the WTO’s systemic priority of profits over people.”

Holding the planned meeting as it stands is problematic in light of the “obvious inequalities will favor those who have vaccines recognized in Switzerland, ease of travel, proximity and Geneva-based delegations – that is, ie the rich countries of the global North “, the states letter.

A virtual or hybrid conference would also be problematic, the groups say, as some officials would face connectivity issues and be at a disadvantage compared to officials who can attend in person.

“So,” the letter reads, “the institution whose rules enforce vaccine apartheid are trying, incredibly, to have a meeting under conditions of vaccine apartheid, without having first resolved that apartheid by accepting the TRIPS waiver. Acting in these circumstances will further erode the legitimacy of the WTO and undermine the credibility of the new Director General, at a time when the credibility of the organization is already at its lowest.

Member States must therefore focus their energy “on an urgent agreement on the TRIPS waiver”.

The open letter came as human rights defenders on Thursday threatened legal action against the The German, Norwegian and Canadian governments if they continue to oppose the TRIPS waiver, and as the Biden administration – which approved the vaccine-related IP waiver – faces calls to be more active pressure European governments block the proposal.

In a letter at the White House this week, a coalition of US-based organizations told Biden that “billions of people here and around the world are counting on you to deliver. Your leadership in securing a meaningful WTO waiver and helping end the Covid-19 pandemic and the misery it causes to all of humanity is a moral necessity. “

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