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

H.E. Ambassador Xolelwa Mlumbi-Peter
399.   Since the proposed wavier was first discussed in this Council last October, Australia has made clear our commitment to supporting equitable, widespread and timely access to COVID-19 health products, including vaccines we are pleased that there appears to be a widespread commitment to these outcomes among Members. 400.   There also appears to be broad agreement among Members that global manufacturing constraints are currently an impediment in achieving these shared objectives. The fact that there may be different perspectives, and remaining questions, on which policy steps will best address this challenge should not be misinterpreted as indicating the membership is not on the same page about the existence of the challenge itself. 401.   The question we must focus on is how the multilateral trading system can, including the multilateral IP system, best contribute to overcoming these constraints by increasing the total global manufacture of COVID-19 vaccines and health products. There appear to be different perspectives among Members on this question. 402.   We have not sought to block the waiver, but rather we have asked the proponents for specific evidence of underutilised manufacturing capacity, including whether steps have been taken to secure a voluntary license and whether it was TRIPS obligations that have impeded the use of this capacity we have not asked these questions for the purposes of stalling the debate, or because we have prejudged the answer rather, these are the key questions that will inform how we can best use the multilateral IP system to assist the scaling up of manufacturing capacity we ask these questions with an open mind. 403.   We note that Canada has also previously asked about the technical feasibility of producing vaccines independently of the original developer of that vaccine Australia agrees that this is an important question to answer in determining whether a TRIPS Waiver would actually lead to any material increase in the total number of vaccines. 404.   At the same time, it is Australia's view that we need to look at what else the WTO, in cooperation with other international organisations, governments and industry, can do to encourage a scale up of manufacturing. Including by facilitating voluntary licensing arrangements, and the transfer of know-how and technology after all, mere access to patent and other IP-protected information will be insufficient to ramp up manufacturing capacity without this expertise in doing so, we should draw on the considerable experience that our new Director-General brings to this discussion, and keep an open mind when exploring all possible outcomes. 405.   We agree with the comments made by our esteemed colleague from India earlier that all such initiatives can be explored in parallel we urge the membership to proceed on the understanding that all such initiatives have been put forward in good faith, with the purpose of furthering the objectives that we all share. 406.   To the extent that manufacturers are unable to strike fair, reasonable and timely licensing deals, Australia supports the full and proper use of TRIPS flexibilities and exceptions including the issuance of compulsory licences, and stands ready to support countries in drawing on these flexibilities wherever necessary. 407.   Amid a global pandemic, the TRIPS Council has a responsibility to ensure that the TRIPS Agreement offers a coherent and rules-based method for countries to take measures to support access to critical COVID-19 health products. Australia looks forward to continuing to engage on these issues with other Members as we work to find practical, constructive and consensus-based outcomes.
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