Even after move to US, opponents resist patent waiver of COVID-19 vaccine

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By Emma Farge

GENEVA (Reuters) – A deal on an intellectual property waiver for COVID-19 vaccines at the World Trade Organization (WTO) was not close to being accepted on Monday despite Washington’s backing, due to skepticism expected with regard to a new project, sources close to the talks told Reuters.

Negotiations reopened at the WTO on Monday and focused on a much-anticipated revised draft submitted by India, South Africa and dozens of other developing countries last week.

A surprise change by the United States earlier this month to support a patent waiver put pressure on remaining opponents like the European Union and Switzerland, home to many drugmakers. But Monday’s talks – the 11th session since the original waiver proposal in October – failed to break through.

The main donors of the waiver presented their new project at the private WTO meeting on Monday, allowing the main players to give their first official feedback on its content.

The meeting is crucial as it will determine whether the talks will shift to “text-based negotiations” as desired by Director General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

A Geneva trade official said the proposal to start text-based talks “gained ground” on Monday, including from the United States, which said it was open to discussion on any proposal that could potentially work. stimulate the production and distribution of vaccines.

He did not openly support the revised text, but said he was in the process of analyzing it.

A dozen countries, including South Korea and Great Britain, continued to express doubts and asked for more time to study the new South Africa / India proposal.

Three sources close to the talks see problems with the text.

“There is an ocean between this waiver proposal and what has been suggested by the United States,” said a source involved in the talks who declined to be named. “There is certainly no quick fix for this.”

Two aspects of the draft exemption which may strengthen opposition are its scope and duration.

While U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai previously said she only focused on increasing access to vaccines, the new project also includes diagnostics, therapeutics and medical devices, among others.

“When you got a big bomb like the United States saying we will support the waiver, people expected the revised proposal to narrow the scope,” a Geneva-based business source said.

The draft also sets a deadline for a waiver deemed to be temporary “at least three years” and allows 164 WTO members to determine when it expires. Since they would have to do this by consensus, a country could extend it multiple times.

“If the proponents insist on (the duration), there will almost certainly be no consensus agreement on the waiver,” said Peter Ungphakorn, a former WTO staff member who now blogs about the waiver. trade.

An EU diplomat told Reuters that the revised text “would likely call for the American bluff.” The European Union is expected to present an alternative plan to increase the production and availability of COVID-19 vaccines to the WTO in early June.

(Additional reporting by Philip Blenkinsop in Brussels and David Lawder in Washington, edited by John Miller, Bernadette Baum and Bill Berkrot)



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