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25th Jun 2022

EU counters Biden's vaccine patent-waiver with WTO plan

  • So far, 85 percent of vaccines delivered worldwide have been administered in high- and upper-middle income countries (Photo: UNICEF Ethiopia)

The EU has submitted to the World Trade Organization (WTO) a plan aimed at expanding the production of Covid-19 vaccines - which Brussels sees as a quicker and more-targeted solution to unequal global distribution of vaccines than the intellectual property right-waiver proposal backed by the US.

India and South Africa, supported by a large group of developing countries and international organisations, demanded in October 2020 a temporary waiver of intellectual property rights for Covid-19 vaccines and treatments, and the proposal has steadily gained momentum.

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To the surprise of many, US president Joe Biden decided last month to support easing patent rules on Covid-19 vaccines.

While the EU says it is open to discussing the proposal, the 27-nations bloc is not convinced that this would provide "the best immediate response" to ensure "the widest and timely distribution of Covid-19 vaccines".

"In reality, the main problem at this moment relates to the lack of sufficient manufacturing capacity to rapidly produce the required quantities," the EU commissioner for trade Valdis Dombrovskis said on Friday (4 June) in a statement.

"The objective must be to ensure that any available and adequate manufacturing capacity, anywhere in the world, is used for the Covid-19 vaccines production," he added.

The EU's proposal is divided into three elements.

The European Commission, which oversees trade policy on behalf of member states, stressed that exports restrictions should be kept to a minimum - not only for vaccines and treatments, but also components and raw materials.

The EU has exported a total of 245 million vaccines to 46 different countries - accounting for about half of the total amount of vaccines produced in Europe.

Moreover, the EU has called on governments to encourage vaccine-makers and developers to enter licencing and manufacturing partnership with producers in developing countries to expand production.

Pharmaceutical firms are also expected to make concrete pledges to increase supplies in these countries.

This is already the case for BioNTech and Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and Moderna, which previously committed to delivering 1.3 billion doses this year to low-income countries at no profit, and to middle-income countries at a lower cost.

Finally, the EU stressed that there are existing "legitimate" tools under the WTO framework that allow governments to grant a producer a licence to make a vaccine without the consent of a patent holder.

EU officials told reporters on Friday there is "no evidence" that the current patent rights are an impediment to ramp up vaccine production in the least developing countries.

They also stressed that the US has not clarified what its proposal exactly is.

The EU would need to adopt a common position in the European Council before supporting the waiver. Notably, Germany, Portugal, Estonia and Belgium are reportedly sceptical, while Greece, Spain, France and Italy have shown themselves somewhat more supportive.

The European Parliament is expected to vote for a resolution focused on the patent-waiver proposal of Covid-19 vaccines and treatments on Wednesday (9 June).

During a previous debate on the matter, there was a lack of consensus among MEPs.

A revised proposal over the temporary patent-waiver will be discussed next week during the so-called TRIPS Council (8 and 9 June).

So far, 85 percent of vaccines delivered worldwide have been administered in high- and upper-middle-income countries, according to the New York Times vaccine tracker.

Opinion

If EU blocks vaccine waivers, it can drop 'solidarity' talk

Workers such as United Nurses Association of India are furious that the EU is undermining their best efforts and exacerbating the crisis by continuing to put big-pharma profits ahead of Covid vaccine patent-waivers. Is this what solidarity looks like?

EU now 'open' to vaccine waiver, after Biden U-turn

The European Union is now ready to discuss the proposal to waive temporarily intellectual property rights for Covid-19 vaccines - following the historic decision by Washington in favour of easing patent rules.

'Shocking' disparities bolster vaccine patent-waiver call

The unbalanced distribution of vaccines globally has triggered calls to waive intellectual property rights for Covid-19 vaccines. But an analysis of lobbying by watchdog Corporate Europe Observatory revealed how Big Pharma has influenced the EU Commission's position.

Pressure builds on EU to back WTO vaccine-patent waiver

MEPs have backed a motion demanding the temporality lifting of intellectual properties rights of Covid-19 vaccines - a symbolic move that puts pressure on the European Commission to change its position on the issue of global access to vaccines.

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How industry watered-down new EU supply chain rules

The Commission fell hook, line, and sinker for the arguments of big business on the corporate due diligence directive — conflating rules and regulations with so-called 'red tape' and rebranding regulations as 'burdens' on business which should be scrapped.

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