UPDATE 2 – Vaccine Waiver Negotiations May Make Pharmaceutical Companies Heroes, Says US Trade Chief
(Add comments on India, South Africa, climate change)
By David Lawder
WASHINGTON, May 12 (Reuters) – U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai on Wednesday said she was pushing for an intellectual property rights waiver of the COVID-19 vaccine because the United States and drugmakers have “the obligation to help save the world now”.
Tai, speaking at a hearing of the U.S. Senate Finance Committee, said she viewed the World Trade Organization negotiations as a way to eliminate the intellectual property problem as an obstacle to the vaccine production. She supported the WTO negotiations last week.
She praised the work of American companies in the rapid development and production of safe and effective vaccines, adding that on intellectual property, “The message I want to convey to them is, ‘You can be a hero here. “”
Several Republican senators criticized Tai for “giving” American innovations to foreign competitors by supporting WTO negotiations.
Tai said she saw the talks less about preventing other countries from “stealing” American technology and more about finding a way to positively impact people’s lives by ending the coronavirus pandemic.
“What we are trying to accomplish is save lives,” she said, adding that ending the pandemic is a necessary first step in any future trade policy.
“Unless we are able to bring the rest of the world’s economies back online, there won’t be a lot of benefit to us in what we’re going to do,” Tai said.
India is experiencing a pandemic tragedy of “unimaginable magnitude” and South Africa, the other main proponent of vaccine waivers, has no facilities to produce vaccines and would need them to end. the pandemic on the African continent, Tai said.
WTO negotiations will take time, with a negotiating process just beginning, Tai added.
She added that she did not see the waiver negotiations as leading to a “slippery slope” of wider erosion of intellectual property rights, as the current crisis is unique and threatens millions of lives. Such waivers on clean energy technologies would not be necessary to tackle the climate change crisis, Tai said.
Asked by Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren whether the USTR would support a broader WTO intellectual property waiver on COVID-19 treatments, therapies, protective gear and other medical products, Tai said she would currently focused only on increasing vaccine access and equity. (Report by David Lawder and Daniel Burns edited by Chizu Nomiyama and Paul Simao)