The WTO Becomes the Nerve Center for Pandemic Response

In the late evening of the 5th May, here in Geneva, the international trade community was jolted from its end-of-the-day fatigue with the news of the US support to the waiver of intellectual property protection for COVID-19 vaccines. While the news was cheered among the global health community that has long faced the specter of vaccine shortages and rising deaths from COVID-19, it perplexed the trade lawyers. After all, in one stroke, the US had upended its long-entrenched position on the primacy of the protection of intellectual property, in the 25 plus years of the existence of the TRIPS Agreement.

Irrespective of the outcome and the intent of the move by the USTR, this is quite clearly a watershed moment, going beyond mere political symbolism.

“That the US has opened the door to even discuss a proposal that seeks a blanket waiver on intellectual property protection, is unprecedented. This opens up possibilities to negotiate,” a trade official said.

Clearly, the disruption caused by COVID-19 is evident, not only in the crematoria and even streets in India aglow with the incessant funeral pyres, it has surely disrupted diplomacy in both trade and health circles. Trade sources familiar with the discussions at WTO told Geneva Health Files that they learned of the announcement from the USTR, “like the rest of you”, said one official.

The ‘twitterati’ in global health that comprises experts, academics, activists and journalists dispersed globally, were abuzz with excitement, microblogging their thoughts on the development late into the night, here in Europe.

Image credit: Photo by Sebastian Voortman from Pexels

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