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

H.E. Ambassador Xolelwa Mlumbi-Peter
12 PROPOSAL FOR A WAIVER FROM CERTAIN PROVISIONS OF THE TRIPS AGREEMENT FOR THE PREVENTION, CONTAINMENT AND TREATMENT OF COVID-19

225.   We have travelled a long way from our last regular session of TRIPS Council in October 2020, when this Proposal was first introduced. From two, we have now 57 co-sponsors; from none, today we have multiple vaccines approved for Emergency Use Authorization in different parts of the world and unfortunately from one million1 to more than 2.5 million2 deaths from coronavirus today. The development of multiple viable vaccines to eradicate the COVID-19 pandemic in less than a year was an incredible scientific achievement, which is now undermined by severe vaccine inequality. We are all agreeing that to address the vaccine inequality today, we need to massively ramp up manufacturing, which is presently being held back by what the Director-General of the WTO, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has called "serious supply scarcity". To address this, the Director-General stated that the world needs additional vaccine manufacturing capacity at an affordable price. 226.   On its part, India has supplied 58 million vaccine doses to 65 countries and the UN Health workers, as of 10 March 2021 under its Vaccine Maitri i.e. Vaccine Friendship Initiative. India has also gifted 200,000 doses for the UN Peacekeepers. The UN Secretary General has stated that India has been a global leader in pandemic response efforts having provided critical medicines, diagnostic kits, ventilators and personal protective equipment to more than 150 countries. Despite our scarce resources and a population of more than 1.3 billion, we are doing our bit towards equitable delivery of vaccines. 227.   According to UNCTAD, while advanced economies have benefitted from historically low interest rates to fund their response packages, sources of income for developing countries have dried up with remittances plummeting, global supply chains collapsing and tourism halted. Globally, Governments have intervened to suspend air transport and restrict mobility in order to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Sectors like civil aviation, logistics, travel and tourism, hospitality and even MSMEs continue to be severely impacted by such state interventions. Astonishingly, we hear a lot about MSMEs in this organisation and even in this Council by discussing ways to promote innovation among them. However, when it comes to effective solution that can help in their quick recovery from the devastating impacts of pandemic, same Members appear to be shy and reluctant to engage in text-based discussions. 228.   World trade in travel services was down by 68% in third quarter of 2020 as compared to same period in 2019. Trade in transport services also declined by 24% over the same period. So, why the proponents of free-market economies are so vocal about the interests of few companies while turning deaf ears to the rapid decline in other sectors? How long will these sectors be able to sustain on the fiscal stimulus and continue to remain silent? After all, these sectors are also crucial for global economic recovery. Also, how long the doctors and frontline healthcare providers in all the countries would continue to risk their lives and render services without access to vaccines? Yesterday, nurses around the world, under the umbrella of Global Nurses United, an international federation that unites nurse and health care worker unions in 29 nations around the world, urged the TRIPS Council to support the Waiver. We are taking these sectors and professionals as granted just because their collective voice is not as big as that of few companies. 229.   An inequitable vaccination programme could prolong the pandemic for many years through cycles of mutation, resistance, and reinfection and will cost the global economy about USD 9.2 trillion as per an ICC study. While the global response stimulus has amounted to more than USD 13 trillion, less than 1% of this has gone to lower income economies as per United Nations Economic Commission for Africa. Thus, for economies and international trade to recover, world needs affordable and accessible vaccines in the shortest possible time. 230.   At the moment, the world is not producing sufficient vaccines to stem transmission enough to end the pandemic, despite the existence of several approved candidates and unutilized vaccine manufacturing capacities. To bridge this delivery deficit, it is paramount that every tool at our disposal is used and is oriented towards producing enough vaccines to eradicate the virus swiftly everywhere. In recent days, some other initiatives to identify bottlenecks in production and promote licensing agreements have been advocated as one of the tools towards this end. Ideally, this should have been explored in November 2020 itself, when first Emergency Use Authorization was granted. Nonetheless, we welcome any initiative that can help to ramp up manufacturing and production. We would like to emphasise that all initiatives must be explored in parallel and should not be seen as mutually exclusive. Members should realise that the Waiver does not come in the way of any of the other initiatives. However, Members should be conscious of the fact that additional ways/initiatives should ultimately add in the efforts towards scaling up production and should not serve the mere purpose of derailing or deviating focus from the existing Proposal. 231.   The Director-General of the World Health Organization, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, (Director-General WHO) in his briefing on 5 March 20213 mentioned that the main disadvantage of the approach of bilateral technology transfer, through voluntary licensing from a company that owns the patents on a vaccine to another company who can produce them, is lack of transparency. We have seen in the past one year, how such secretive and restrictive business as usual voluntary licensing practices have failed to leverage global production capacity. We, therefore, need to diversify our initiatives and add more tools to urgently scale up production. The TRIPS Waiver is one such tool worth exploring and its text deserves to be discussed in this Council. 232.   Our Waiver Proposal represents an open and expedited global solution to allow uninterrupted collaboration in the production and supply of health products and technologies required for an effective COVID response. It urges WTO Members to grant a time-limited waiver. If the WTO Members cooperate to achieve a consensus on this, multiple manufacturers could start producing viable vaccines simultaneously. Going by numbers, the proposal is currently supported by more than 100 Members but a few Members continue to oppose textual discussions. Many of these same Members have hoarded more vaccines than they need, exacerbating vaccine inequity and hindering coordination for an efficient global vaccination programme. 233.   Article IX(3) of the Marrakesh Agreement, which provides for waivers as a tool to be used in exceptional circumstances like COVID pandemic, is being rendered ineffective by such Members who are refusing to enter into text-based negotiations. If these Members really have a strong commitment towards rules-based MTS, then they should respect the mandate under Marrakesh Agreement and fulfil their obligations by agreeing to textual discussions. How long can the TRIPS Council and the WTO shy away from its negotiating responsibility, that too in a pandemic where every minute many lives and livelihoods are being lost by our inability to act? 234.   We need to pay heed to the words of the Director-General WHO, who stated4 that and I quote, 'many countries with vaccine manufacturing capacity can start producing their own vaccines by waiving intellectual property rights, as provided for in the TRIPS Agreement. Those provisions are there for use in emergencies. If now is not a time to use them, then when? This is unprecedented time, and WHO believes that this is a time to trigger that provision and waive patent rights.' 235.   We are pleased to see that some of the Members who took a conservative approach and questioned the mere existence of any problem in access in document IP/C/W/671 have finally agreed that there are problems with the production and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines and other medical products in their latest communication document WT/GC/230, even though the realisation has happened after more than three months and after loss of many more lives. We hope that it is not coincidental that this submission has come at a time when one of the proponents has reportedly faced issues in vaccine procurement. Nonetheless, we appreciate that finally we are on the same page. 236.   In conclusion, we would like to highlight the criticality of the issue and the need to have continued engagement on the text of the Waiver, in both formal and informal modes so as to arrive at a common landing zone. WTO Members need to appreciate that the world is in dire straits and what is needed is truly exceptional measure. It is high time that WTO takes this Proposal to its logical conclusion, and we hope that all Members will engage in good faith on this proposal. 237.   Last but not the least, allow me to take this opportunity to sincerely thank you Chair, for your efforts in leading discussions on this important Proposal. We hope that the incoming Chair will continue with the same momentum which has brought more than 100 Members together in support of this Proposal.

52. The Chair recalled that the "Proposal for A Waiver from Certain Provisions of The TRIPS Agreement for the Prevention, Containment and Treatment of Covid-19" had been circulated by India and South Africa on 2 October 2020. It had since been co-sponsored by the delegations of Kenya, Eswatini, Mozambique, Pakistan, the Plurinational State of Bolivia, the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, Mongolia, Zimbabwe, Egypt and, most recently, by the African Group and the LDC Group.
53. At its previous meeting in February 2021, the Council had agreed to once again provide a "Status Report on the consideration by the TRIPS Council of the waiver proposal" to the General Council meeting of 1-2 March 2021. That Status Report had provided a factual overview of the waiver discussions in the Council and highlighted Members' common goal of providing timely and secure access to high-quality, safe, efficacious and affordable vaccines and medicines for all. It had reported that Members had exchanged views, asked questions, sought clarifications and provided replies, clarifications, and information, including through new documents, but had not been able to reach consensus, including on whether it was appropriate to move to text-based negotiations. Delegations had indicated a need for further discussions on the waiver request and views exchanged by delegations. The report had concluded that "[t]he TRIPS Council will therefore continue its consideration of the waiver request and report back to the General Council as stipulated in Article IX:3 of the Marrakesh Agreement."
54. The co-sponsors had signalled their openness to discuss the scope and duration of the waiver, as well as other questions delegations might have, in the context of text-based negotiations. Other delegations had emphasised a need for more discussions and were not ready to move towards textbased discussions. Members had also recognized the challenge arising from limited manufacturing capacity of vaccines and the inability of existing manufacturers to meet global demand. Members needed to engage in a candid and good-faith and evidence-based discussion on what was required to scale up global production in these unprecedented times of a public health crisis. She encouraged Members to engage in a result-oriented process that would contribute to an effective solution to boosting productive capacity for products that were essential to deal with COVID19 across the world. Swift action was required urgently to help scale up COVID-19 vaccine production and distribution. The Council needed to shift gears and move towards a solution-oriented discussion. The world was in desperate need for solutions. She urged delegations to work together and engage with this purpose in mind.
55. At the General Council meeting of 1 March 2021, the Director-General had said we need to do things differently. She had said "it cannot be business as usual. We have to change our approach from debate and rounds of questions to delivering results". She noted that she was not sensationalizing when she reminded delegations that it was a literally a life and death issue. People were dying at that very moment. She urged delegations to demonstrate their commitment to the overarching goals of universal and equitable access to COVID-19 medical products, not only in words, but through action. She wanted to remind Members of the heightened public interest and concern in this regard, that the world was watching, and that the Council should not fail.
56. There were a number of declarations and letters from civil society regarding the WTO's role in the COVID-19 pandemic, which had been made available on the WTO COVID-19 website under the section "Business/Society response". The previous day, she had received a letter from 'Global Nurses United', which would also be made available on that COVID-19 webpage.
57. She encouraged delegations to also address two issues in their interventions:
a. First, the practical question on how the Council should organize the consideration of this matter going forward. The next regular meeting of the TRIPS Council was scheduled for 89 June 2021. She encouraged delegations to share their views on how to consider the matter in the meantime, so that the Secretariat and the Chair can make any appropriate arrangements so that the Council can move swiftly to a balanced outcome and a landing zone on this urgent matter. The Secretariat had identified dates for possible additional meetings, which the incoming chair could use, depending on delegations' views; and
b. Secondly, whether and how to capture a number of shared understandings with respect to TRIPS flexibilities that had been highlighted. While Members were still discussing the waiver request, Members might wish to capture and communicate such shared understandings on the role of IP in the context of a pandemic, which could provide valuable elements for the broader understanding of the TRIPS Agreement; and might also provide positive guidance to prepare for future pandemics.
58. The representatives of India; Maldives; Zimbabwe; Qatar; Pakistan; Egypt; Nepal; Bangladesh; Vanuatu; Cuba; South Africa; Brazil; Ukraine; China; Nigeria; Mozambique; Jamaica; Tanzania, on behalf of the African Group; Chile; El Salvador; Cameroon, on behalf of the ACP Group; Colombia; New Zealand; Mongolia; Namibia; Canada; the United Kingdom; Switzerland; Japan; the European Union; Chinese Taipei; Indonesia; Singapore; Australia; the United States of America; and the World Health Organization took the floor.
59. The Council took note of the statements made and agreed to revert to the matter at its next meeting.
IP/C/M/98, IP/C/M/98/Add.1

1 https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/coronaviruse/situation-reports/20201005-weekly-epi-update-8.pdf

2 https://covid19.who.int/

3 https://www.who.int/director-general/speeches/detail/who-director-general-s-opening-remarks-at-the-media-briefing-on-covid-19-5-march-2021

4 https://www.who.int/director-general/speeches/detail/who-director-general-s-opening-remarks-at-the-media-briefing-on-covid-19-5-march-2021