Resisting patent waiver, EU submits vaccination plan to WTO


An employee works at the plant of the American pharmaceutical company Pfizer during a visit by the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen (not shown) to supervise the production of the Pfizer-BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine, in Puurs, in Belgium, April 23, 2021. John Thys / Swimming pool via REUTERS

The European Union on Friday submitted a plan to the World Trade Organization that it says will expand the supply of COVID-19 vaccines more effectively than the waiver of intellectual property (IP) rights backed by the United States.

India, South Africa and dozens of developing countries are asking for the waiver to address what they say is a “staggering injustice” in access to vaccines and other treatments for COVID-19.

A surprise change by the United States in May to support a waiver has increased pressure on remaining opponents, such as the European Union and Switzerland, which are home to many drugmakers. Read more

The European Commission, which oversees the EU27’s trade policy, said on Friday it had submitted an alternative, focusing on limits on export restrictions and using flexibility in existing WTO rules . Read more

The World Trade Organization can then discuss the plan at meetings scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday next.

The EU argues that a waiver would not boost production and presented a three-part plan.

First, he says that export restrictions should be minimized.

Second, the EU would encourage vaccine developers to strike deals with producers in developing countries and commit to increasing supplies to vulnerable countries, as some have done.

Third, the EU plan highlights existing WTO rules allowing countries to license manufacturers even without the consent of the patentee, although they would still receive compensation.

A Commission official said the proposal was intended to dispel the ambiguity, adding that the pandemic meant “compulsory licenses” could be granted without having to negotiate first with patent holders. Compensation could be minimized to ensure affordable prices.

Humanitarian medical group Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said the EU proposal only advocated voluntary action by companies rather than the concrete legal solution that a waiver would offer.

He added that the existing “compulsory license” had critical loopholes and that the EU’s plan was limited to vaccines.

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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