TRIPS Waiver opponents ring-fenced by growing support for proposal

A month is too long in geopolitics. As trade diplomats resumed discussions this month on the TRIPS waiver proposal after a month long break in August, they returned to changing contours of these discussions.

At the face of it, not much has changed namely that the key opponents including the EU, Switzerland and the UK, have continued to dig into their heels, resisting the approach to temporarily waiving intellectual property protections for COVID-19 medical products. In the meantime, the co-sponsors were joined by more WTO members including Jordan and Malaysia. Australia and China have also said that they will support the TRIPS waiver.

As we reported out last week, just as diplomats race to conclude competing negotiations in the run up to the Ministerial Conference later this year, the pharma industry announced the possibility of reaching surplus production of COVID-19 vaccines within a few months.

However, as we saw these increased numbers in doses do not mean much in terms of concretely addressing vaccines inequities given that orders have been tied up and secured by paying countries. WHO and African leaders this week, pushed for buying doses from manufacturers and urged lifting of export restrictions on vaccines.

In what finally sounded like a significant moment for accountability, Gavi’s Seth Berkley asked fellow partners of the COVAX facility – the pharma industry: “where are these doses”? The IFPMA is part  of the ACT Accelerator and the COVAX Facility is the vaccines pillar under this international mechanism set up to address the pandemic.

All of this underscores the continued importance of the TRIPS waiver discussions at the WTO.

This story charts out how the coming weeks will likely unfold. We spoke with diplomats and experts to understand the different commercial, political and epidemiological factors associated with this pandemic that could influence the outcome on these discussions.

Image Credit: Photo by Will Mu from Pexels

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