US has assured support for the waiver of intellectual property protections for Covid-19 vaccines and text-based negotiations at the WTO
The India-US story to maximise global vaccine production to counter Covid-19 has got a move-on following talks between India’s Minister of Commerce and Industry Piyush Goyal and United States Trade Representative Katherine Tai late Friday.
The two discussed the next steps that need to be taken to overcome obstacles that have emerged after US President Joe Biden endorsed India and South Africa’s bid to suspend patents held by Big Pharma so that others have the know-how to locally develop Covid-19 vaccines.
The WTO can grant the temporary patent waiver under the provision of Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), provided all members of the organisation arrive at a consensus. So far, many of the European Union countries, where Big Pharma companies are based have objected to the temporary lifting of patents.
Ambassador Tai conveyed her deep sympathy for the people of India as they battle a wave of Covid-19 cases and reaffirmed the commitment of the United States to help India during its time of need, a press statement said. She explained her support for the waiver of intellectual property protections for Covid-19 vaccines and text-based negotiations at the WTO, which are part of the Biden-Harris Administration’s comprehensive effort to expand vaccine manufacturing and distribution around the world.
"Today I met with India’s Minister of Commerce and Industry @PiyushGoyal and discussed the United States' efforts to expand global vaccine manufacturing and production. I expressed my deep sympathy for the people of India as they battle a wave of Covid-19 cases," Tai tweeted after the virtual meeting.
The Ambassador recognized the WTO Members who have expressed support for future negotiations and welcomed an update from Goyal about India’s efforts to revise and resubmit their waiver proposal. Both also agreed to stay in regular communication in the days ahead.
"Had a fruitful discussion with US Trade Representative @AmbassadorTai focusing on India & US working together on Trade-Related aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) waiver. This will ensure affordable Covid-19 vaccines for all," Goyal tweeted.
Last month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had discussed lifting the patent protections of coronavirus vaccines with Biden.
“Prime Minister Narendra Modi also informed President Biden about India's initiative at the WTO for a relaxation in the norms of the Agreement on TRIPS to ensure quick and affordable access to vaccines and medicines for developing countries,” said the statement released after the talks. The relaxation would grant governments quicker and more affordable access to the life-saving doses.
Biden was also under pressure from lawmakers at home and governments abroad to join an effort to waive patent rules for the vaccines so that poorer countries can begin to produce their own generic versions of the shots to vaccinate their populations.
"This is a global health crisis, and the extraordinary circumstances of the Covid-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures," Tai had then said in a statement, “The Administration believes strongly in intellectual property protections, but in service of ending this pandemic, supports the waiver of those protections for Covid-19 vaccines."
Tai cautioned, however, that negotiations "will take time given the consensus-based nature" of the WTO. But the United States would also continue to push for increased production and distribution of vaccines – and raw materials needed to make them – around the world, she said.