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.