The United States will support a proposal to waive intellectual property protections for Covid-19 vaccines, joining an effort to increase global supply and access to life-saving opportunities. which widens the gap between rich and poor countries.
“We are for the renunciation of the WTO, we are for what the proponents of the renunciation are trying to achieve, which is better access, more manufacturing capacity, more gunfire,” said US Trade Representative Katherine Tai in a interview on wednesday.
Now, the Biden administration will actively participate in the negotiations on the text of the waiver of the World Trade Organization and will encourage other countries to support it, Tai said.
He acknowledged that talks will take time and “will not be easy”, given the complexity of the issue and the fact that the Geneva-based WTO is a member-driven organization that can only make decisions based on consensus.
“As for how quickly the WTO can achieve, it literally depends on what the WTO members, collectively, can achieve, and so I am the first to admit that what we are leaning on is a process that it won’t be easy, ”Tai said. He added that he sees the energy of WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, “to seize this opportunity and see what the WTO is capable of.”
India and South Africa, two nations struggling to contain new outbreaks of Covid-19, have urged WTO members to temporarily suspend intellectual property rights rules, arguing that it would be the most efficient and effective way. equitable approach to vaccine shortages in poor countries.
The United States is not the only country that has so far withheld support for the waiver. The European Union, the United Kingdom, Japan, Switzerland, Brazil and Norway have also resisted the push. However, supporters of the resignation argue that U.S. leadership on the issue could help influence other actions. The deadline for approving the waiver depends on how quickly the Member States can reach an agreement.
“Given what’s at stake, this is the best opportunity for the WTO to come together to get something to help people and make a difference,” Tai said.
Drug manufacturers have opposed the move, saying the waiver plan is ineffective. They argue that few countries have the capacity to produce more vaccines even if they know the formulas. In addition, there is a limited global supply of necessary materials and the construction of new factories with the technology needed to produce the vaccines can take years, they say.
As U.S. inoculations progressed and outbreaks slowed in recent weeks, the White House has been pressured by progressive Democrats and public health advocates to take a stand after deliberating on the issue, while India , in particular, suffers from deaths and growing infections.
As inter-agency discussions were held, Tai also met with CEOs of all vaccine-producing companies and made calls with members of Congress and other civil society and public health stakeholders.
At a WTO meeting on Wednesday, India and South Africa agreed to revise their proposal, first tabled in October, to present members with a meeting tentatively scheduled for the second half of May.
The role of Okonjo-Iweala
A WTO spokesman told reporters that Okonjo-Iweala is encouraged by India and South Africa’s willingness to address the concerns of other countries in its drafted proposal.
In reaching an American position, Tai and the Biden team had to balance the views of competing stakeholders to ensure that any outcome on the issue saved lives without stifling innovation.
Although progressive lawmakers, including Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, have pushed the White House to support the resignation, the pharmaceutical industry has argued that delivering vaccine technology to China and Russia would harm its ability to compete.
In April, Tai asked the pharmaceutical industry to make sacrifices.
“The desperate needs our people face in the current pandemic provide these companies with the opportunity to be the heroes they claim to be – and can be,” he said at a virtual conference at the WTO. “As governments and leaders of international institutions, we demand the highest standards of courage and sacrifice in times of crisis. The same must be demanded of the industry. “