Minutes - TRIPS Council - View details of the intervention/statement

H.E. Ambassador Xolelwa Mlumbi-Peter
15 PROPOSAL FOR A WAIVER FROM CERTAIN PROVISIONS OF THE TRIPS AGREEMENT FOR THE PREVENTION, CONTAINMENT AND TREATMENT OF COVID-19
1202.   My delegation wishes to flag and particularly want to draw everyone's attention to the kind of support and encouragement received and the solidarity been demonstrated by a considerable amount of intergovernmental, non-governmental stakeholders, including civil society and academics towards the very valuable initiatives launched by India and South Africa at the WTO. 1203.   The most recent and landmark gesture comes in a global petition in which over 900,000 people from around the world joined together to ask WTO Members to agree to the TRIPS waiver for COVID19 and thus ensure universally accessible and affordable vaccines, treatment and equipment around the world. 1204.   As reported in the WTO Website, this petition is calling for universal access to affordable COVID19 vaccines has been delivered virtually by Avaaz, a global online citizen movement, to the WTO on 9 December 2020. This petition asks all governments, WTO Members and pharmaceutical companies to "ensure access to lifesaving COVID-19 vaccines, treatments and equipment for everyone in the world". 1205.   In addition, we are also aware, similar petitions, appeals and requests have been presented to the governments of many Members, including mine seeking their respective government's intervention in ensuring universally accessible and affordable vaccines, treatment and equipment around the world for the COVID pandemic. 1206.   This reminds me of a similar initiative which the WTO Members launched almost 20 years ago, when the HIV-AIDS pandemic became a global health issue. As a delegate who was actively involved in the deliberations and negotiations, the then initiative was launched to combat a decease who had the ability to spread only through very specific mediums. The Members eventually managed to get a moderate solution through Article 31bis. This was possible mainly due to the true spirit and genuine understanding of each other's' concerns and issues while placing them in their own shoes. 1207.   When I compare the today's situation to the situation then, we are dealing with a virus on which there is less information, but having severe and drastic health impact on the all of us and has the ability to spread through many mediums and unable to contain it only through one solution, but requires a multiple solutions. This is amply justified when I remind everyone of the recent statement issued by the WHO. I quote that only public health measures, not vaccines, can prevent a new surge of COVID-19 cases as the first vaccines are administered in Britain. Vaccines are a great tool, they will be very helpful, but the effect of the vaccine in providing some kind of immune barrier is still far off. The things that must be done to prevent an increase, an uptick, a surge or whatever you want to call it are the public health measures. 1208.   Considering this statement, we are to ensure that our populations will have the access to all those solutions, the medicine, the vaccine and all the other essential elements to combat this pandemic, masques, all devises which is not the only on, the vaccines. 1209.   So where is our unity and solidarity today and are we attempting to understand each other's' concerns, when we have to deal with an unprecedented global health crisis due to which close to around 3% of global population has left this world and their loved ones. 1210.   We also witness that the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID vaccine, two doses of which are required for full immunity and to be given three weeks apart and claimed to be offering up to 95% protection against COVID-19. At this juncture, it is impossible to know and we will find out only by waiting. If immunity does not last then it may be necessary to have annual vaccines, as many for flu. 1211.   All these aspects indicate few guidance to us, one that any vaccine for that matter should be available in abundance quantities for the first time as each person requires two doses and they also should be available annually, as the full immunity period of the first set of doses tend to be limited. 1212.   Further, this vaccine is being tried and used only in handful of countries, such as the UK and Canada, which are rich countries and none of the developing countries appeared to have managed to secure stocks from Pfizer or Moderna at this juncture. 1213.   One of the other promising and cost-effective vaccines is the vaccine developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca. This vaccine is crucial to fast rollout as it is much easier to store and distribute, because it does not need to be kept at ultra-cold temperatures, but there is still a lack of certainty over the effectiveness of this vaccine in the persons, over-55 years of age. 1214.   This is the vaccine supposed to be used to given to the WHO COVEX initiative and through which low income and lower-middle income countries such as mine tend to benefit from. Sri Lanka has therefore placed its sole hope on securing a quantity of this vaccine through this initiative. But, we still have serious concerns and doubts as to whether we are able to secure the adequate amount at the affordable price. 1215.   It is also important to note that international obligations around the right to health also include an obligation to desist from activities affecting the right to health in other countries. Hence, we request those countries who do not want to use the waiver not block the Waiver Proposal, which would compromise the fulfilment of the right to health in other, particularly developing and least developed, countries. 1216.   In conclusion, Sri Lanka requests that WTO Members support the adoption of the Waiver Proposal, which is critical to expanding the access of medical products vital to the prevention, containment, and treatment of COVID-19 in the global South, otherwise constituting a disproportionate burden on women and gender non-conforming people. This is a key opportunity for WTO Members to deliver on their promise to battle COVID-19 in the true spirit of multilateralism.
84. The Chair said that this item had been put on the agenda at the request of India and South Africa; and a communication had been circulated. She invited India and South Africa to introduce their proposal.
85. The representatives of India and South Africa took the floor.
86. The Chair invited Members to take the floor.
87. The representatives of Kenya; Nigeria; Bangladesh; Sri Lanka; Pakistan; the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela; Nepal; Philippines; Nicaragua; Chile; Turkey; Egypt; Indonesia; Argentina; Chad, on behalf of the LDC Group; China; Thailand; Tunisia; Tanzania, on behalf of the African Group; Ecuador; Senegal; Costa Rica; Mauritius; Colombia; El Salvador; Mali; Jamaica; the European Union; the United States of America; Switzerland; Japan; Norway; the United Kingdom; Brazil; Mozambique; Canada; Australia; Honduras; the Holy See; the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) took the floor.
88. The Chair invited the Secretariat to share procedural requirements.
89. The representative of the Secretariat took the floor.
90. The representative of the United States of America took the floor.
91. The Chair noted that the proposal had been submitted to the Council on 2 October 2020. Thus, the 90-day time-period would expire on 31 December 2020. For practical purposes, this would mean that the last opportunity for the Council to adopt the report envisaged by Article IX:3 (b) of the Marrakech Agreement, was before the end-year-break in December. In order to facilitate reconvening the Council to consider a report in this regard, she proposed to keep the agenda item open. She encouraged Members to further consult on the proposal and explore possibilities to bridge the gap.
92. The Council took note of the statements made and agreed to keep the agenda item open.
93. At the Council for TRIPS' reconvened formal meeting of 10 December 2020, the Chair reported that, on 20 November and on 3 December, she had convened the Council in informal open-ended mode to take stock of developments since the suspension in October, and to continue the consideration of the agenda item in informal mode. At these meetings delegations had highlighted their common goal of providing access to high-quality, safe, efficacious and affordable vaccines and medicines for all. Delegations had also exchanged views, sought clarifications and provided information on the operation, implementation and impact of the requested waiver during these meetings.
94. The Chair said she also held consultations in the time-period between 26 November and 1 December, in order to seek delegations' views on (a) what kind of report the TRIPS Council could likely agree on at today's meeting, and (b) how substantive engagement could be further facilitated, given the importance of meaningful and focused discussions on the substance of the proposal. In these consultations she had detected an emerging agreement that the TRIPS Council should provide a communication to the General Council that would be neutral and factual, and reflect the state of play of discussions and the absence of consensus on the waiver proposal in the TRIPS Council at this time. Delegations had also seen a need to continue discussions on the matter within the TRIPS Council.
95. On the basis of these consultations, and after discussions in the informal open-ended meeting on 3 December, an agenda item for a status report on the consideration of the waiver request was put on the proposed agenda of the next General Council meeting scheduled for 1617 December. During the informal meeting of 3 December, the Chair had circulated draft language for such an oral status report with an invitation to Members to comment on this language by 7 December. On the basis of the comments that were received by the deadline, she had held further consultations on 8 and 9 December, and had circulated a revised draft status report.
96. In light of these informal meetings and consultations, she proposed the Council agree that she would deliver an oral status report to the General Council as follows:
At the meeting of the TRIPS Council on 15-16 October 2020, India and South Africa introduced document IP/C/W/669, requesting a waiver from certain provisions of the TRIPS Agreement for the prevention, containment and treatment of COVID-19, which had been circulated on 2 October 2020 and has since been co-sponsored by the delegations of Kenya, Eswatini, Pakistan, Mozambique, and Bolivia. The Council continued its discussions under that agenda item at its resumed meeting on 10 December 2020.
At those meetings, and at informal meetings on 20 November and 3 December, delegations highlighted the common goal of providing access to high-quality, safe, efficacious and affordable vaccines and medicines for all. Delegations exchanged views, sought clarifications and provided information on the waiver request but could not reach consensus. Delegations indicated a need for further discussions on the waiver request and views exchanged by delegations.
This means that the TRIPS Council has not yet completed its consideration of the waiver request and may not be able to do so within the 90 days stipulated in Article IX:3 of the Marrakesh Agreement. Therefore, the TRIPS Council will continue its consideration of the waiver request and report back to the General Council as stipulated in Article IX:3 of the Marrakesh Agreement.
97. The Council so agreed.
98. The Chair thanked all delegations, particularly those involved in the consultations, for the constructive spirit in which they had engaged in the discussions on this report. As regards the TRIPS Council's next steps, she noted that the next regular meeting is scheduled for 1011 March 2021. In order to allow for further consideration of the waiver request in the more immediate future, she proposed that the Council reserve 19 January and 4 February 2021 for meetings of the Council that could be dedicated to the discussion of the waiver request. The next regular meeting – with the usual complete agenda – would remain scheduled for 10-11 March.
99. The Council so agreed.
100. The representatives of Malaysia, Canada, Chile, Bolivia, Sri Lanka, Chad, Norway, Turkey, Singapore, Viet Nam, Eswatini, Egypt, Indonesia, the European Union, Japan, China, the United Kingdom, Oman, Mauritius, Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, Ukraine, the United States of America, Ecuador, the Republic of Korea, El Salvador, New Zealand, Mozambique, Brazil, Jamaica, India, Pakistan, Switzerland, Israel, Colombia, Bangladesh, Tanzania, on behalf of the African Group, Botswana, South Africa, Nepal and Vanuatu took the floor.
IP/C/M/96, IP/C/M/96/Add.1