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

H.E. Ambassador Dagfinn Sørli (Norway)
Introduction 346.   At this stage of the COVID-19 pandemic, the most urgent challenge remains to ensure a rapid and equitable roll out of vaccines globally, as this is the only way to control the virus effectively. The WTO has an important role to play in achieving this objective. Switzerland is convinced that a holistic approach is needed, facilitating trade and reducing barriers to trade, enhancing collaboration in order to scale-up production, and making sure that the tools provided for under the multilateral framework, including the TRIPS Agreement and its flexibilities, can effectively be used. In this regard, we thank the European Union for introducing its new submission in WT/GC/231, on urgent trade policy responses to the COVID-19 crisis, which outlines such a broader approach. On revised TRIPS Waiver Proposal 347.   We thank the proponents for introducing their revised proposal IP/C/W/669Rev.1 for a TRIPS waiver request. In relation to "scope", we note the revised proposal is indeed more specific, while its breadth remains unchanged. On "duration", we note that next to the newly proposed minimum duration of three years, the termination of the waiver is made dependent on a decision of the General Council, implying that the waiver could remain in force indefinitely. There is consensus among health scientists that the new Coronavirus will stay with us for decades to come, comparable to the influenza virus. Permanent innovation in R&D of vaccines will be necessary to contain the novel Coronavirus and its future variants. Thus, a consensus in the General Council over whether the virus will at some point be successfully defeated might be elusive for many, many years. 348.   Also in relation to the proposed duration of the requested waiver: in our view, a consequence of the waiver would be that innovative COVID-19 related health products and technologies developed during the waiver period would not be eligible for patent protection even after its termination. This, because they would no longer fulfil the patentability requirement of novelty. Accordingly, such innovation would, in fact, lose the full term of 20 years of patent protection. This could have a dramatic impact on investment into R&D on vaccines and therapeutics, and thus on the international community's pandemic preparedness. We note that the revised version contains language in its preambular paragraphs that recognizes the need to maintain innovation incentives for this purpose. However, we fail to understand and think the revised proposal stands in contradiction to the underlying concept of the waiver in that respect. It remains unclear to my delegation how proponents imagine this goal could be achieved under their proposal. Why the waiver is not an effective means to achieve the goal of global and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics and why TRIPS and IP are enablers to achieve this goal 349.   As already expressed in our previous statements, in Switzerland's view, the suspension of intellectual property rights is not an effective means to achieve quick scaling up of global production and distribution of vaccines and treatments against COVID-19. To the contrary: The innovation pipeline that TRIPS and IPRs underpin has so far produced more than a dozen effective vaccines since the outbreak of the pandemic 18 months ago, giving us the tools to combat the pandemic effectively. IP and TRIPS play a key role, also now at the stage of scaling up production further. 350.   Suspending the TRIPS Agreement would throw existing partnerships between vaccines developers and manufacturers– into a legal void. – According to data from Airfinity, this would concern up to 300 international manufacturing partnerships that have been established internationally since the development of the new COVID-19 vaccines. A TRIPS waiver also risks hampering the establishment of new manufacturing partnerships and could thus block quick progress in scaling up manufacturing, since only in such partnerships is know-how and technology transfer happening promptly. Under a waiver, new manufacturers would have to do it on their own, the development, set up the production process, the safety and efficacy testing and obtain market approvals. This will be time consuming, but time is of essence – another point Members agree on - which is why a waiver in our view will not quickly or efficiently help us achieve our shared goal. Alternative measures more effective than a waiver 351.   What then can be an effective contribution of WTO to help us reach the said goal? In our view, a holistic approach needed: a. One, supporting and facilitating partnerships between COVID-19 vaccine developers and qualified manufacturers with adequate production capacity. This implies among others that more and well documented information is made available concerning existing and nonutilized production capacities they dispose of. b. Two, ensuring the smooth functioning and resilience of the supply chains, minimizing barriers to trade. Over the last few months, we have seen serious and artificially created bottlenecks that have slowed down or literally stopped manufacturing process of vaccines of some producers. All the capacity of the world is useless if timely delivery of raw materials and components along the supply chains breaks down. c. Such export restrictions have also worked to the serious detriment of WHO's COVAX mechanism, through which the international community wants to ensure equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, in particular for poorer countries. d. Three, dose-sharing as provided in the context of the COVAX Facility, will also be essential to achieve equitable access. e. Four, facilitating the use of the TRIPS flexibilities on compulsory licences if Members encounter problems in practice when applying them. On EU Proposals 352.   Finally, as mentioned in the beginning of our statement, we thank the EU for introducing its new submission on Urgent Trade Policy Responses to the COVID-19 Crisis. This communication highlights measures the WTO should take in the field of trade and health, some of which I also referred to in our statement today, and that Switzerland supports in its own right, but also as a Member of the Ottawa Group's initiative on Trade & Health. We thus welcome the contribution of the EU and look forward to discussing it, including the additional submission to the TRIPS Council the EU announced and submitted yesterday and that we will have to examine further. Conclusion/On the way forward/In reaction to Chair's request 353.   Switzerland is ready to discuss all the proposals put forward by Members to identify what the most effective contribution can be for the WTO to help us achieve our shared goal of making global and equitable access a reality as far as possible. We request the Chair to continue facilitating the Council's discussion under this agenda item through your consultations in the formats as you see fit, and to treat all the proposals Members submit on an equal footing.
54. The Chair recalled that the last formal meeting on 30 April had been dedicated to 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, Bolivia, Venezuela, Mongolia, Zimbabwe, Egypt, the African Group, the LDC Group, the Maldives, Fiji, Namibia, Vanuatu, Indonesia and Jordan.
55. Since the formal meeting on 30 April, the co-sponsors had circulated a joint statement on 17 May 2021, which had been circulated in document IP/C/W/677, and a revised decision text for the proposed waiver on 21 May 2021, which had been circulated in document IP/C/W/669/Rev.1.
56. At the request of co-sponsors, the Council had held an open-ended informal meeting on 31 May where the co-sponsors presented the revised proposal, and Members had had a first opportunity to exchange views on the revised proposal. He said that, at the conclusion of the meeting, he had noted that a large number of delegations had called for the commencement of text-based negotiations, and that he had appealed to those Members to come forward with their suggestions regarding practical modalities and formats for such a process. To Members that had indicated that they were still examining the revised proposal, he had expressed his hope that they would be in a position to engage in a more substantive discussion at the formal Council meeting. To Members that had indicated their intention to present concrete proposals in the near future, he had urged them to submit such proposals sooner rather than later in order to enrich the Council's deliberations, and given the urgency of this issue as underlined by most Members.
57. He said that he had also reminded Members that the next regular formal meeting of the Council was scheduled for 13-14 October, and that Members should reflect on how the Council should report to the next General Council meeting scheduled for 21-22 July. In addition to comments related to the substance of the proposal before the Council, he invited delegations to express their views on how this issue should be taken forward, so that he and the Secretariat could make appropriate arrangements.
58. The representatives of South Africa; Tanzania, on behalf of the African Group; Mongolia; Malaysia; Fiji; Egypt; Pakistan; Sri Lanka; Indonesia; Bangladesh; Australia; Mexico; the Plurinational State of Bolivia; the European Union; the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela; Paraguay; Maldives; Chinese Taipei; the Republic of Korea; Nepal; Turkey; Canada; Chile; Singapore; Jordan; New Zealand; Vanuatu; Ukraine; Norway; China; Hong Kong, China; Brazil; the United Kingdom; Switzerland; Japan; the Russian Federation; El Salvador; Mozambique; Philippines; Angola; Jamaica; the United States; Peru; Argentina; Chad on behalf of the LDC Group; Viet Nam; Namibia; the European Union; India; and Iran took the floor.
59. The Chair said that while he detected continuing disagreement about certain fundamental questions regarding the issues underlying the waiver – and remaining questions on the revised provisions on scope and termination – he had also not heard any objections to engaging in a textbased process on the waiver proposal. In light of the urgency of the matter, he would consult with Members regarding the timing and format of such a process, which could have the General Council scheduled for 21-22 July as a natural target date. Such a process would always need to respect the principles of openness, inclusiveness and transparency. With this in mind, he was planning to convene an open-ended informal meeting on 17 June 2021 to inform Members on his consultations on the matter until that time, and on the possible process leading up to July.
60. He echoed the Director-General in saying that the issue of equitable access to vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics was both the moral and economic issue of our time, and an issue which needed to be addressed with urgency. He said that that Members shared the common goal of providing equitable access to these products for the global population as soon as possible, even if they differ on where to place the emphasis of this endeavour. He was hopeful that in continuing urgent and focused discussion on the IP issues relevant to the pandemic, Members could soon agree on pragmatic solutions to any problems that can directly improve Members' pandemic response.
61. The Council took note of the statements made and agreed to revert to the matter at its next meeting.
IP/C/M/100, IP/C/M/100/Add.1