283. My delegation has made an extensive statement under these two agenda items at the informal part of the Council meeting of 22 February. We request that this statement be included in the minutes of the present formal meeting. We will make it available to the Secretariat for this purpose.
284. I will only sum up a few key points: we pointed out that it is important to look at facts and figures and relevant developments on the ground in order to be aware of where we actually stand today in our common fight against the COVID-19 pandemic and what the real challenges are that still lie ahead of us. In our statement of 22 February, we presented such facts and figures for an evidence-based discussion and hopefully a mutually agreeable decision by the Council.
285. On that basis, we concluded that concerning the TRIPS Waiver Proposal, we need a reality check in the Council's discussion. Proponents claim that the TRIPS waiver is needed to broaden the global manufacturing capacity to allow all WTO Members sufficient access to COVID-19 vaccines. Data shows we have sufficient capacity today. The established and trusted TRIPS and international IP framework has helped - and enabled - us to get to this point. Access to and manufacturing capacity of COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics are no longer the bottlenecks we face. WHO's COVAX global vaccination campaign is now facing a lack of demand - not of supply. Today, this applies also to Africa. To reduce their stocks, some African countries have asked COVAX to pause vaccine deliveries and postpone them to the second half of 2022.
286. The African Union Centre for Disease Control and Prevention confirms that their primary challenge for vaccinating the continent is no longer supply shortage, but the logistical challenges to vaccinate at scale and vaccine hesitancy. These challenges are not connected to IP or the TRIPS Agreement - nor would waiving patent rights or the TRIPS Agreement assist WTO Members in addressing these challenges. Having said this, while being an ambitious and long-term goal, sustained investment in geographically diversified manufacturing capacity and new technologies are key as part of future preparedness to ensure early access in a next pandemic also for low and middle-income countries (LMICs). This was stressed during the recent meeting of the Multilateral Leaders Task Force on COVID-19, on 1 March. To this effect, close collaboration between vaccines developers, manufacturers, international organizations – including the WTO – and governments is essential. The goal of building up diversified global manufacturing capacity can only be pursued and successfully achieved within the regulatory framework of the WTO and its TRIPS Agreement.
287. Switzerland is convinced that for countries wishing to develop their own manufacturing capacity in the vaccines sector, a TRIPS waiver would work against their own interests. Vaccine developers would be dis-incentivized to invest or license their technology or know-how to manufacturers in countries without such a framework to build their partnership on. A core lesson for the WTO and for its regulatory framework in future pandemics is that there is a need to ensure the smooth running of supply chains, avoiding their disruption through measures such as export restrictions or other trade barriers imposed by WTO Members. A well-functioning and trusted intellectual property rights system, as provided by the TRIPS Agreement, will continue to be crucial to provide the necessary incentive for partnerships to come together to develop and manufacture at global scale new - and hopefully again effective - vaccines and therapeutics against a next pandemic virus.
288. I refer here to the presentation of the WTO Secretariat this morning under agenda item 3, and more specifically to the statistical information given therein on the hundreds of manufacturing partnerships that have formed during 2021 to jointly achieve a global production of more than 13 billion of COVID-19 vaccine doses by early this year, and since then, growing every day.
289. Finally, regarding the small group process initiated and led by Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Director-General of the WTO and ongoing now for almost three months, we flagged our concerns that this process does not meet WTO principles of inclusiveness and transparency. We also made clear that delegations excluded from these talks should not be expected to simply wave through an outcome this small group process may come up with.
Switzerland's statement at the informal meeting held on 22 February 2022
Draft report to the General Council
290. Thank you, Chair, for consulting Members on the status report to this week's meeting of the General Council. My delegation fully supports your report.
Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Director-General of the WTO's small group process ("QUAD-process")
291. We thank Ms Anabel González, Deputy Director-General of the WTO and the HE Ambassador João Aguiar Machado (European Union), HE Ambassador Xolelwa Mlumbi-Peter (South Africa) and HE Ambassador Maria PAGAN (United States) for a first brief up-date on the small group process initiated by Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Director-General of the WTO. While we appreciate Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Director-General of the WTO and her facilitators' efforts to find an agreement among Members, we register our serious concern with the very restrictive format chosen for this process: a process that has been ongoing now for almost two months. This format does not correspond to the fundamental WTO principles of inclusiveness, transparency or regular reporting to the membership. My delegation is also concerned about the imbalance of representation in this small group process of which we should be part. My delegation believes that an inclusive and transparent process is indispensable if we are to find a mutually agreeable outcome on this matter.
Facts and developments on the ground
292. To have a useful and objective discussion under these two agenda times, it is important to look at the facts and take into account the developments on the ground since the Council last met. According to the scientific online publication "our world in data" (a project of the Global Change Data Lab), the rate of vaccination on all continents, except Africa, is now above 65%. South America being in the lead, with more than 80% and Asia coming second, with more than 70%, ahead of Europe or the United States.
293. Global manufacturing capacity started at zero early in 2021 and has since massively increased to more than 1.5 billion doses per month by the end of 2021. Capacity has grown to an extent that some manufacturers have started to reduce output since demand is decreasing. One player in this massive increase of manufacturing was COVAX, the global COVID-19 vaccine facility co-founded by the WHO. COVAX had entered into contractual arrangements with manufacturers in developing countries for the production of these vaccines for low- and middle-income countries (LMICs).
294. Vaccine developers had licensed their innovative COVID-vaccines to these manufacturers, based on the TRIPS Agreement and the IP system. It was export restrictions which stopped the delivery of these vaccines under the COVAX programme to many LMICs for much of 2021. Today, however, supply of and access to vaccines is there, including in Africa.
295. According to the WHO regional office, there is now a steady supply of doses flowing in. According to the WHO office, African countries will have adequate access to COVID19 vaccine supplies in 2022. In fact, many struggle with administering the number of doses delivered. According to recent data from Airfinity, a total stock of 780 million vaccine doses supplied to lowand middle-income countries await their administration to the population.
296. The numbers of the African Union Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) show that there is a wide gap in many African countries between the vaccines supplied and the vaccines administered. The low figures of vaccinations are thus not a problem of access to vaccines anymore, but one of administering the vaccines at disposal.
297. At the WTO Technical Workshop on COVID-19 Vaccines R&D, Manufacturing and Distribution, 11 February 2022, UNICEF informed that the COVAX programme was able to deliver over 600 million vaccine doses in Q4 2021. However, many recipient countries were overwhelmed by this large volume which is why they asked to reduce deliveries in Q1 2022 to give them time to reduce their stockpiles. The main challenge today is thus the effective distribution of available vaccines to the populations, thus making vaccination happen and bring the jabs in people's arms, particularly in low-income countries.
Link to pandemic preparedness process
298. These facts and developments recall the intrinsic link of our discussion here to the broader agenda of WTO's pandemic response. Any WTO outcome will need to be comprehensive and balanced in order to be meaningful. IP has played a positive role in fighting this pandemic effectively. This positive role of IP and TRIPS must be reflected in any such outcome.
299. As part of a holistic pandemic response, the WTO needs to undertake efforts to improve vaccine readiness, address challenges linked to transparency, burdensome customs procedures, but mainly, to export restrictions – which, as mentioned, have proved a significant barrier to access, including under the COVAX facility.
Waiver Proposal and pandemic preparedness in the future
300. Finally, as part of improving pandemic preparedness in the future, building up local and regional manufacturing capacity in the vaccines and pharmaceutical sector is important, particularly in Africa. A number of initiatives in this regard are already underway, be it by the private sector or in public private partnerships, including under the umbrella of relevant international organizations. Recent examples of such initiatives include the mRNA tech transfer hub in South Africa, BioNTech's delivery of turnkey manufacturing facilities to Rwanda, Senegal, and potentially South Africa by mid2022. Johnson & Johnson's licence agreement with Aspen Pharmacare in South Africa for the production of 500 million doses in 2022 or the agreement between AstraZeneca and Brazil's Fiocruz Foundation for 120 million doses and Insud Pharma in Argentina for the production of 200 million doses, to name just a few.
301. More can and should be done. For these partnerships and long-term ventures to be successful, however, the WTO regulatory framework will remain instrumental, including IP and TRIPS, building necessary bridges between these partners and allowing for trusted and effective collaboration. In other words, IP has been, is and will be part of the solution in the COVID-19 crisis. Preparedness for future pandemics must therefore build on the existing WTO IP framework and not undermine it.