The Lowest Common Denominator: The Quad Text on the TRIPS Waiver

A developing country ambassador told us a few months ago that the best outcome on the waiver proposal would be to persuade the Americans and Europeans to have a solution that would include all kinds of medical products not just vaccines, and waiving all kinds of IP  protections not just patents, underlining the positions of these key WTO members respectively. Now, as a potential for a compromise is beginning to emerge, it seems that the proponents of the waiver might have lost out on both accounts.

While scholars and access to medicine advocates have already panned the compromise text, these are early days, considering that the text will now be taken up by a wider WTO membership. For now, it may have helped let off steam steadily building in the WTO fuelled by unmet expectations, and has given its members something to play around with, as they will embark on arduous negotiations, weighing quid pro quos in their consultations in the run up to the Ministerial Conference in June 2022.

What is also noteworthy is that the leading pharma industry association, the IFPMA has also “condemned” this text.

In our conversations with diplomats, it appears most of the Quad members are not happy with the text. But a compromise by definition is often an unhappy outcome.

A developed country trade diplomat told us that the certainty around patents have to be preserved. “We have offered deep concessions,” the source said.

Here is a quick analysis of the text based on views from relevant experts.

Experts are of the view that the proposal as it stands, does not go far enough in ensuring a freedom to operate by not addressing existing cumbersome authorization procedures. It is limiting on both accounts –  the kinds of medical products can be included in a waiver (only vaccines), and the types of IP protections that can be waived (only patents). Worse, it also limits by countries that can benefit from a potential waiver (a function of vaccine exports and status). (See WTO-IMF COVID-19 Vaccine Trade Tracker)

As we first reported last week, the essential structure of this proposed text has two parts, one on patents, and the other on trade secrets.

Photo by Ann H from Pexels

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