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

H.E. Ambassador Xolelwa Mlumbi-Peter
357.   There is agreement in this Council, that the common goal must be to work towards global access to COVID-19 vaccines as expeditiously as possible. 358.   With the first few vaccines obtaining regulatory approval only at the turn of the year, we are still far from having sufficient vaccines at our disposal to reach this common goal. While considerable efforts are underway to scale up global manufacturing, these efforts need time. And they must be further intensified. 359.   This brings us back to the discussion of this Council whether the proposed TRIPS Waiver would be helpful or harmful to these efforts. The latter is the case, in the view of this delegation. The novel COVID-19 vaccines are complex biotechnological products. Those based on the novel mRNA technology involve completely new manufacturing processes. Their production requires the setup of new manufacturing facilities, or extensive repurposing of existing ones. 360.   This is time- and resource-consuming. The IP system provides incentives for cooperation between vaccine developers and additional manufacturers, and enables assistance as well as technology and knowhow transfer, thus accelerating the process of this scaling up production and making the success of these undertakings more predictable. 361.   It is misleading, therefore, to argue that the temporary suspension of large parts of the TRIPS Agreement alone would translate swiftly into a worldwide supply of COVID-19 vaccines or that it would even have avoided a scarcity at this initial stage of the process where global access needs to be geared up to supply more than 8 billion people. 362.   In order to achieve this scale-up as expeditiously, efficiently and safely as possible, contractual manufacturing is a more promising approach. Meaning, a close partnership between vaccine developers and manufacturers which have the respective technological production capacity and the capability to obtain regulatory approval to ensure the quality and safety of their products. 363.   Dozens of such global collaboration partnerships have already been established over recent weeks and months with a view to jointly speeding up manufacturing. Astra Zeneca, as just one example of a novel COVID-19 vaccine developer among others, informed that it collaborates with manufacturing partners in Argentina, Brazil, China, India, Korea, Mexico and Russia, to enable global supply of its vaccine in sufficient quantities as soon as possible. The millions of doses that India mentioned it has delivered so far to partner countries, are, at least in part, the result of such a licensing and partnership agreement between Astra Zeneca and Indian manufacturers. These and other partnerships are built on the international regulatory framework, including the TRIPS Agreement. 364.   The positive results on global supply of these manufacturing partnerships will start to show notably over the coming weeks and months. But it remains a fact that the unprecedented challenge to provide the whole world population with novel vaccines cannot be mastered simply by pressing the light switch. 365.   Switzerland welcomes all initiatives, which bring together vaccine developers with manufacturers that dispose of relevant manufacturing capacity, technical expertise and the qualified capability for regulatory approval of such manufacturing. 366.   From the point of view of costs and logistics, but particularly considering the time pressure that the fight against the pandemic mandates, manufacturing capacity must be scaled-up as efficiently as possible. What is required is an optimal and strategic use of resources and supply chains while ensuring the close cooperation of all stakeholders, private and public, to maximize the output for and the impact on the goal of global access. We remain open to engage with other WTO Members in order to promote and contribute to this goal. 367.   Governments have an important role to play in this respect. Not only as concerns the necessary preparations to make the vaccination process run smoothly when sufficient quantities of vaccines are delivered. But also as concerns their customs tariffs, tax or non-tariff regulatory measures which might work as barriers to swift and more affordable access. 368.   It is our collective responsibility to make international trade a powerful instrument to help contain the pandemic and contribute to economic recovery. The "Trade and Health" initiative by the Ottawa Group provides pragmatic proposals in this regard, notably on export restrictions, transparency and on enhanced cooperation with other international organizations. Switzerland firmly believes that these proposed actions would support global efforts to ensure equal access to medical goods, including vaccines and we therefore encourage all WTO Members to engage in these discussions. 369.   To determine the way forward concerning the TRIPS Waiver proposal, Chair, we request your successor to hold consultations with Members, including as concerns next dates for the Council to continue its discussion under this agenda item.
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