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

H.E. Ambassador Dagfinn Sørli
European Union
240.   The European Union participated with a constructive approach and in a result-oriented manner in the discussions on which Ms Anabel González, Deputy Director-General of the WTO debriefed in the last session. These discussions continue. In parallel to these discussions, the European Union has continued working on various fronts to address the identified bottlenecks that stand in the way of achieving our common goal of ensuring equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines and medicines. 241.   In February 2022, in the course of the European Union-African Union (EU-AU) Summit, we committed to a substantial package supporting the development of mRNA technology for the continent and the resilience of health systems in Africa. The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, indicated that what we need is a multifaceted strategy to enhance production of mRNA vaccines in Africa. We need government support to kick-start production. We need to strengthen health systems to create conditions for private investment and voluntary transfer of technology. Finally, we need to protect intellectual property, as the element that is necessary for research and development. 242.   It is in that context that the EU is supporting the development of the mRNA hub and Team Europe has contributed with EUR 40 million to this objective. We also have an example of industry direct involvement as regards the transfer of mRNA technology with BioNTech cooperating with a number of African countries on mRNA technology by delivering BioNTainers and the blueprints for the production of vaccines. This all just shows that the collaboration and transfer of technology are happening. We must continue to work together to create the conditions for what will be most needed for regions such as Africa going forward, that is private investment and transfer of technology. 243.   The situation as regards supply of COVID-19 vaccines to Africa has also substantially improved. In total, by end of January 2022, 760 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines were supplied to Africa. 40% of these doses were fully produced in the EU (292 million). These doses, while still insufficient to achieve international vaccination targets, are already enough to fully vaccinate almost 60% of Africa's adult population. Very soon in 2022 (towards the end of March 2022) it is expected that Africa will have sufficient supplies to vaccinate 70% of its adult population. 244.   The number of COVID-19 vaccines produced (13 billion by end January 2022) has consistently outpaced the number of vaccines being administered (10.8 billion by end February 2022). This shows that vaccine production is no longer a bottleneck. The number of donations through COVAX has risen sharply. More vaccines have been shipped through COVAX in the last three months than in the ten months prior. However, reportedly around half of the supplied doses have not been used yet due to various logistical bottlenecks, such as the lack of syringes. Vaccine hesitancy is a problem everywhere, as well. More efforts are required in these areas if we want to progress fast in vaccination. 245.   The European Union remains committed to finding a solution on intellectual property that can contribute to the diversification of production of COVID-19 vaccines. We continue to believe that we can find a bridge between the positions of various Members, between those who advocate for a waiver and those of us who believe that the TRIPS Agreement provides enough flexibilities to ensure that the enabling qualities of intellectual property can be used to the maximum. This is why we have engaged in the quadrilateral process facilitated by the WTO Secretariat, and this is why we continue to engage in this process. 246.   The European Union has shown utmost flexibility and moved its position significantly throughout this process. We have moved from the declaration we proposed in June 2021 towards a solution which would allow Members to authorise their manufacturers to produce and export vaccines in the fastest possible manner and without red tape, with maximum flexibility as to the legal instrument used to do so. But in order to find a solution flexibility is needed on both sides. We are looking for a pragmatic solution that could facilitate production of vaccines and other essential health products in regions like Africa, while preserving incentives for innovation and investment that are key for responding to new variants of COVID-19, such as Omicron or to new diseases. 247.   Finally, we would like to thank the WTO, WIPO and the WHO for their continuous collaboration on the organisation of practical capacity-building workshops to enhance the flow of updated information on current developments in the pandemic and responses to achieve equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines and medicines. We would like to thank WIPO for the debrief of its activities in this area. We welcome the efforts carried out by WIPO to enhance our understanding as regards accessing databases on intellectual property in the context of our common goal of ensuring equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines and medicines.
82. The Council so agreed.
60. Noting that most delegations had made one single statement under these two agenda items in the past, the Chair suggested that these items be once again taken up together.
61. He 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 originally submitted by India and South Africa; and circulated as document in October 2020. A revised proposal had been circulated by the co-sponsors in document on 21 May 2021, which is now co-sponsored by 65 delegations.
62. He further recalled that in June 2021, the European Union had submitted a communication on "Urgent Trade Policy Responses to the COVID-19 Crisis: Intellectual Property", circulated in document , which had been followed by a "Draft General Council Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health in the Circumstances of a Pandemic", circulated in document .
63. The Chair recalled that at the last formal meeting on 22 February 2022, 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 23-24 February 2022. That Status Report had provided a factual overview of the waiver discussions in this Council and had highlighted Members' common goal of providing timely and secure access to high-quality, safe, efficacious and affordable vaccines and medicines for all.
64. It 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.
In addition, the TRIPS Council will also continue in the same manner its consideration of the other related proposals by Members."
65. The Chair recalled that at the Council's meeting in February 2022, DDG González and a number of delegations involved had also briefly shared information on the high-level consultations concerning these items at ministerial and senior officials' level. A number of other Members had also emphasized the need for transparency and inclusiveness in any process that was intended to lead to a consensus- based outcome. The Chair encouraged delegations to provide as much information as possible on their contacts and activities in this regard.
66. The representatives of South Africa; the European Union; the Maldives; Egypt; Bangladesh; Indonesia; Malaysia; Tanzania,; Chile; Colombia; India; the Plurinational State of Bolivia; China; Brazil; Pakistan; Hong Kong, China; Sri Lanka; Australia; Nigeria; the United Kingdom; Norway; Nepal; Switzerland; Chad,; Japan; Singapore; Russian Federation; Türkiye; Namibia; the United States; Peru; and the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela took the floor.
67. The Chair thanked the representatives for their interventions and said that in light of the discussion, it was his impression that Members' views on the substance remained relatively unchanged. While he had heard a number of delegations welcoming the efforts of the Director- General, he had also heard some strongly expressed concerns regarding transparency and inclusiveness. Overall, he sensed expectations and hopes among delegations that the current high- level process might result in framing a platform on which the Membership at large may be able to build a consensus-based solution.
68. Regarding the procedural way forward, noting the requests from delegations, the Chair proposed to keep these two agenda items open in order to be able to reconvene the Council at short notice.
69. Finally, the Chair urged delegations to remain fully engaged with a sense of urgency and with the objective to find a path forward towards a consensus-based outcome. Transparency and inclusiveness were central pillars of the WTO's modus operandi. All efforts should be made to keep the entire membership as much as possible informed and involved in the deliberation on items on the Council's agenda.
70. The Council took note of the statements made and agreed to keep the agenda items open with a view to resuming the meeting at short notice as appropriate in light of developments.
71. At the reconvened meeting on 6 May 2022, the Chair suggested to once again take up agenda items 12 and 13 together, as had been the case in past meetings. The Chair put on record that, at an informal meeting of the Council on 3 May 2022, he had shared with Members a briefing that he had received from the Director-General on the outcome of informal discussions among a number of Ministers that had been held without prejudice to these Members' respective positions. On the same day, he had received a communication from the Director-General, containing the text of this outcome, which was subsequently circulated to Members in document .
72. He recalled that, at an informal session immediately preceding this formal meeting, he had shared with Members his impressions from the bilateral consultations he had held, and a number of delegations had provided first informal reactions to the circulation of document . These interventions had indicated that the majority of delegations needed more time to consult on the document before they would be ready to substantively engage on the text. He indicated that he would consult further with Members after the General Council meeting on 9-10 May, before setting out a process for substantive discussions going forward.
73. The Chair then recalled that, as indicated in his communication dated 28 April 2022, in its last report to the General Council on 23-24 February 2022, the Council had concluded that it would "report back to the General Council as stipulated in Article IX:3 of the Marrakesh Agreement". In line with previous practice, he had circulated draft language for a factual and neutral reflection of the state of play, closely based on previous reports, on 3 May 2022 in document with an invitation for Members to provide comments. An agenda item for this status report had also been placed on the agenda of the General Council meeting scheduled for 9-10 May in the usual fashion. Since no comments had been received on the draft language, delegations had been informed that the Chair would propose the text as circulated for adoption.
74. As the proposed language closely mirrored previous reports, which were by now well known by all delegations, the Chair said he would simply propose that the Council formally adopt the text for the oral status report as circulated in document as a factual reflection of discussions on the TRIPS Waiver request.
75. The Council so agreed.
76. The Chair thanked delegations for their cooperation and said he would deliver this report to the General Council, on 9-10 May, as agreed. He recalled that, given the upcoming opportunities for delegations to place formal statements on the record at the General Council, he had not intended to open the floor under this agenda item, and he thanked delegations for their cooperation in this regard.
77. The representatives of China; Indonesia; Ukraine; Nigeria and the Russian Federation requested their statements from the preceding informal meeting be included in the record of the formal meeting.
78. The Chair then recalled that when the Council agreed to the 2022 meeting dates last October, the summer meeting of the TRIPS Council had been set for 8-9 June 2022. Given that the 12th Ministerial Conference had recently been rescheduled for 12-15 June, and in light of the circulation of the draft outcome text, he suggested moving the date of the Council's summer meeting to 6- 7 July 2022 to allow the Council and delegations to focus on preparations for MC12.
79. The Council so agreed.
80. In closing, the Chair encouraged delegations to prepare for the upcoming discussions on the draft outcome text with a constructive and pragmatic attitude. The fact that a number of active delegations with divergent views had invested months of hard work to come together around a common text meant that Members may now have a realistic chance to reach an agreed outcome on this long-standing issue. It would not be easy, and it was in the nature of multilateral consensus that compromises would be required on all sides. But an agreement by all Members on a pragmatic and practical outcome on the role of IP in the pandemic would send a strong signal that – despite their differences – the WTO community could come together and highlight how the multilateral rules can help address this and future crises.
81. At the reconvened meeting on 1 June 2022, the Chair indicated that the sole purpose of the meeting related to the modalities for adopting the TRIPS Council's oral status report to the General Council meeting on 7 June. He said that he would circulate the draft text for that report to delegations today and proposed that the Council adopt the text of its oral status report ad referendum. This would mean that, unless any delegation raised an objection to the draft text of the oral status report by the specified deadline, the report would be deemed to have been adopted. This would help the Council avoid holding another formal meeting before the General Council meeting the following week.
82. The Council so agreed.
IP/C/M/104/Add.1, IP/C/M/104/Rev.1, IP/C/M104