The Third Way: Unblocking the TRIPS Waiver Logjam

The Third Way suggested by Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, WTO’s new director-general who assumes office on Monday, March 1, may pave the way for negotiations on the TRIPS Waiver proposal, sources in Geneva say. In her remarks recently, Okonjo-Iweala suggested the use of TRIPS flexibilities and the voluntary licensing approach to deftly address the pandemic.

This, proponents of the TRIPS Waiver proposal, say, could be a significant moment in these discussions, which could bring to the negotiating table countries opposing the waiver. So far, opposing countries have locked the proponents of the proposal in a so-called “evidentiary loop” without moving towards text-based negotiations. For five months WTO members have discussed and debated if and whether intellectual property and others kinds of obligations under the TRIPS agreement have impeded the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Earlier this week, we reported that the discussions on the TRIPS Waiver proposal continued to be deadlocked at a formal meeting that took place on February 23. Read this debrief by Third World Network for statements by the WTO members on the proposal.

Although nearly two-thirds of WTO members now support the proposal, a handful of powerful, mostly wealthy nations continue to oppose it. Although discussions continue to be deadlocked, there has been material difference to the kind of opposition to the proposal, sources suggest. This reveals potential indications on how positions on the proposal might evolve in the coming months.

Based on conversations with diplomatic sources familiar with the proceedings at WTO, this story takes a closer look at the potential evolution of these discussions going forward.

The waiver proposal seeks to allow all countries to not grant or enforce intellectual property protection for the duration of the pandemic, until widespread vaccination has been achieved. The proposal recognizes intellectual property, trade secrets, industrial designs, as barriers to sharing technology. 

Image Credit: Photo by Alex Green from Pexels


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