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4th Feb 2023

EU says No to patent-free vaccines for Africa

  • Almost 70 foreign ministers held talks in Kigali (Photo: ec.europa.eu)
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EU countries blocked mention of waiving vaccine patents to fight the pandemic at a meeting in Africa, overshadowed by the Sudan coup.

There was a "need to conclude discussions on how the World Trade Organisation (WTO) can support the ramping up of manufacturing, the equitable distribution of Covid-19 related health products, and the transfer of technologies", 68 EU and African foreign ministers said in a joint communiqué on Wednesday (27 October) after talks in Kigali.

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  • EU foreign-affairs chief Josep Borrell (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

"We recognised, everybody does, that there is an unbearable vaccination gap that has to be closed ... between Africa and Europe," EU foreign-affairs chief Josep Borrell also told press.

And fixing the problem was "not only a moral duty", Borrell added, given scientific warnings that new Covid variants could develop in Africa, where just 5 percent of people have been inoculated, then bounce back to Europe.

But for its part, the African Union (AU) had wanted a higher level of ambition.

It had called for EU backing for "a targeted and time-limited Trips Waiver" on vaccines in earlier drafts of the communiqué, seen by EUobserver.

Trips stands for "trade-related aspects of intellectual-property rights".

EU states had also pencilled in support for measures "including ... trade-related aspects of intellectual property" in earlier drafts.

The Kigali meeting did see German firm BionNTech sign a memo with Rwanda to cash-in on the pandemic by building a vaccine-production plant in the country next year.

But all talk of patent waivers was cut from the final declaration.

"The EU urgently needs to change its approach to Covid-19 vaccines ... the EU must fulfil pledges for donations and support the Trips waiver," Caritas, a Roman Catholic charity group, said on Wednesday.

EU states with strong ties to pharmaceutical firms, such as Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Ireland, and the Netherlands, had previously lobbied against a waiver, according to the Geneva-based medical charity Médecins sans frontières.

The AU had also wanted EU states to move toward approval of vaccine certificates for all jabs, including an Indian one, cleared by the World Health Organisation.

But the EU agreed only to support for "ongoing efforts" for "reciprocal recognition".

Sudan coup

The Kigali talks were held in the shadow of a military coup in Sudan, which saw the AU suspend its membership and "strongly condemn the seizure of power".

The joint communiqué did not mention the putsch, or any other African conflicts, such as the one raging in Ethiopia.

Borrell explained this was because "our friends from the African Union were [still] discussing [their reaction to Sudan] and I must obviously respect these procedures".

But he added: "The actions of the military represent a betrayal of the revolution, the transition, and the legitimate request of the Sudanese people for peace, justice, and economic development".

In other areas, the Kigali communiqué pointed to tension on migration and on women's rights.

EU and AU states promised to take back rejected asylum seekers or economic migrants from each other's territories, but "Eritrea disassociated itself" from the pledge.

An earlier draft had also spoken of protecting "sexual and reproductive health and rights" in Africa, but the final declaration redacted this line.

Art looting

Despite the disappointment on vaccine patents, AU countries did score a minor win on art-looting, however.

"Ministers shall ... encourage mutual undertaking for the restitution of cultural assets," the Kigali communiqué said, in line with AU proposals.

The same day in the UK, Jesus College in Cambridge agreed to give back a bronze cockerel looted by the father of an alumnus from the Kingdom of Benin more than 100 years ago.

The Quai Branly museum in Paris also agreed to give back Benin 26 artefacts stolen in 1892.

Some 90 percent of Africa's art treasures were in Europe, according to French art historians cited by Reuters, including 70,000 objects in Quai Branly and tens of thousands in the British Museum.

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