TRIPS Talks: Interview with João Aguiar Machado, EU Ambassador to the WTO


“Only a multi-pronged approach will bring about real change”

Q&A: João Aguiar Machado, EU Ambassador to the WTO

As WTO members continue to negotiate on ways to streamline, adapt intellectual property rules in the response to the pandemic, we bring you this timely interview with EU’s ambassador to the WTO, João Aguiar Machado. He discusses the different strands in the EU’s overall strategy on trade and health at the WTO in the context of this health emergency. Later this week, members head to an informal TRIPS Council meeting on 30 June to discuss South Africa-India’s TRIPS Waiver proposal and elements of the EU’s alternate proposal.

[GHF] 1. Can you explain how the three different suggestions articulated by the EU, in its communication to the WTO General Council (June 4, 2021), will come together? These include: a WTO framework on trade and health, the draft Declaration on Trade and Health and a proposal on the approach to compulsory licensing.

We all agree that the common global objective in this pandemic is equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines and treatments. It is certainly a top priority for the European Union (EU). We already see incredible progress in the total global production of COVID-19 vaccines with more than 10 billion doses due to be produced by the end of 2021. For comparison, the total global output of all vaccines before COVID-19 was only 5 billion doses. However, further ramping up the production and, most importantly, ensuring equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines remain very essential priorities in the fight against time in this pandemic.

Setting up and ramping up the production of vaccines is a highly complex process which requires adequate facilities, trained personnel, know-how, raw materials and other inputs. It is a complex issue that cannot be solved by one simple solution. The overall strategy is not only within the WTO. The WHO, other organisations, institutions and initiatives –such as the COVAX Facility – are working on these solutions. Members of the WTO must collectively find ways to address the current delays and shortages in vaccine production to the extent that is possible in the WTO framework.

We have essentially two strands of work in the WTO: on the one hand, the proposal from a number of like-minded members (Ottawa Group) for a Trade and Health Initiative. On the other hand, the specific debate on intellectual property issues related to the proposal by India, South Africa and others to waive the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) and the recent EU proposal on optimising the use of licencing flexibilities provided in the TRIPS agreement. It is now time to work on all of these issues with urgency for a final comprehensive solution on health.

More concretely, the co-sponsors of the Ottawa group Declaration on Trade and Health are discussing in particular trade facilitation and production expansion through collaboration. As the vaccine production scale-up is related also to a smooth functioning of the supply chain, the EU proposed that this aspect is also discussed in the context of the Declaration on Trade and Health. The intention is to revise the current draft Declaration and to incorporate elements of the EU’s Communication to the WTO General Council. At the same time, the intellectual property strand is being dealt with in the TRIPS Council. Our objective is that these strands of work form a basis for a general understanding on health in the WTO General Council, at the upcoming WTO 12th Ministerial Conference.

João Aguiar Machado, Ambassador, Permanent Representative of the EU to the WTO

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