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

H.E. Ambassador Dr Lansana GBERIE

222.   My delegation is fully aligned with the statement just delivered by my brother the distinguished delegate of Tanzania on behalf of the African Group. As at 7 March, COVID-19 had claimed over 6.8 million lives. Despite being the product of publicly-funded research, COVID-19 vaccines were subjected to IP-backed monopolies that greatly enriched a handful of companies that experienced record profits. Some of these entities are unsure of what to do with the profit garnered. 223.   According to a study published in Nature by Moore and others in 2022, an estimated 1.3 million fewer people would have died in 2021 alone if COVID-19 vaccines were distributed equitably.1 This led the United Nations Secretary General to describe vaccine inequity as "the biggest moral failure of our times".2 The prioritization of monopoly profits over the lives of people in developing countries fuelled vaccine inequality and has been carried over to COVID-19 therapeutics and diagnostics. 224.   Against this backdrop, the co-sponsors of document IP/C/W/669/Rev.1 are disappointed that the membership is yet to decide on extension of the MC12 Decision on the TRIPS Agreement to cover therapeutics and diagnostics. The extension of the MC12 Decision is a credibility issue for the World Trade Organization. A solution on vaccines alone is not sufficient. 225.   As stated by co-sponsors in our 12 December draft decision contained in document IP/C/W/694: "diagnostics and therapeutics are essential tools for a comprehensive approach to fight the pandemic, that it is not over. Omitting these tools will deter the effectiveness of the decision that aims at timely and affordable access to effective vaccines against the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic". 226.   A decision on vaccines only was agreed on the understanding that Members are committed to take a decision on extension to therapeutics and diagnostics no longer than six months, as entailed in paragraph 8 of the MC12 Decision. This was accompanied by assurances that certain Members merely required a few months to conduct domestic consultations. It is disappointing that we have been engaged in circular discussions and the WTO is yet to take a decision in this regard. The cosponsors engaged in good faith in all discussions and provided ample evidence on the IP-related challenges to accessing therapeutics and diagnostics and these were also highlighted by the World Health Organization in its input to the Council for TRIPS. 227.   The Act-A Facilitation Council Working Group Report on Diagnostics and Therapeutics of September 2022 confirmed the concentration of manufacturing which contributes to inequitable rollout of COVID-19 diagnostics and therapeutics, which threatens to undo public health gains achieved throughout the pandemic. More recently, in February 2023, the ACT-A Monitoring and Tracking Task Force noted that there is a gap in access to oral antiviral licence agreements to generic suppliers, as they do not apply to upper middle-income countries (UMICs). Access to antivirals by many UMICS remains limited to their ability to reach agreement with originator companies.3 228.   Addressing inequitable access to health products remains a critical issue in the context of the current pandemic and to help us build resilience for future pandemics. The only sustainable means of achieving this objective and bolstering health security is to diversify the quantity and geographical scope of countries that can produce the needed products. 229.   The co-sponsors have spent over two years demonstrating how intellectual property barriers have hampered these efforts through extensive written and oral submissions. Our submissions have been supported by peer reviewed academic research, civil society and Nobel laureates alike. In contrast, the only contrary data that has been provided by the opposing perspective is from the stakeholders with an interest in the retention of intellectual property barriers. 230.   The inordinately delayed and limited MC12 outcome was a missed opportunity for the WTO to make a meaningful contribution to global efforts to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. As stated in an open letter by current and former heads of state, Nobel laureates and leaders of intergovernmental, and non-governmental organizations that was published just last week on 11 March 2023, and I quote: "Governments at the World Trade Organization (WTO) took too long and did too little to address this barrier for COVID-19 vaccines. WTO Members should move to approve an intellectual property waiver for COVID-19-related vaccines and extend that decision to cover COVID-19 tests and treatments. That would dramatically improve access to all of these lifesaving products. Developing countries should exercise their rights to use the full flexibilities of the TRIPS agreement to protect public health". 231.   Global health experts have been consistently clear about the need for a comprehensive approach to dealing with the pandemic. This is exemplified by various drafts of the pandemic treaty developed under the auspices of WHO. They are centred on an approach that deals with all pandemic products. 232.   In contrast, the WTO has prioritized an artificially limited scope that protects monopolies and super profits, rather than global public health. This dismal failure to respond in a timely manner to the call for a multilateral solution in the form of a comprehensive waiver necessitates that Members consider trigger-ready mechanisms as part of preparedness for future pandemics. 233.   Many of us feel that our lives have returned to normality, and some may be tempted to simply move on. However, COVID-19 is not over and all of us remain vulnerable, more so people in countries that have low vaccination rates, as they are vulnerable to variants. The words of Ambassador Tovar da Silva Nunes of Brazil are apt, and I quote: "We owe to present and future generations equitable and timely access to medical countermeasures when fighting the next pandemics, ensuring that the most vulnerable people, especially the underprivileged and indigenous peoples, are saved."

60. The Council so agreed.
56. The Chair recalled that under paragraph 8 of the Ministerial Decision on the TRIPS Agreement, adopted on 17 June 2022, Members had agreed to make a decision within six months from adoption, on whether to extend this Decision to cover the production and supply of COVID-19 diagnostics and therapeutics. He also recalled that at the last formal meeting in October – and resumed in December – the Council had recommended to the General Council to extend the deadline for such a decision. The General Council, at its meeting on 19 December 2022, had agreed to this recommendation and resolved to return to the question of the duration of the extension at its next meeting. At its recent meeting on 6-7 March 2023, the General Council had agreed that it would keep the question of the duration of the extension on its agenda again for its next meeting – and that Members would provide updates on where they stand on their internal processes. In the meantime, substantive discussions would continue in the Council for TRIPS. It was against this background, that the item was on the Council's agenda.
57. The representatives of Tanzania, on behalf of the African Group; South Africa; Bangladesh, on behalf of the LDC Group; Nepal; Egypt; Kenya, on behalf of the ACP Group; Indonesia; China; India; the United States of America; Brazil; Switzerland; Japan; the United Kingdom; Chinese Taipei; the European Union; Korea, Republic of; Singapore; and Norway took the floor.
58. With respect to next steps, the Chair said that in his experience, Council discussions were most constructive when they were well prepared and took place on the basis of submissions and proposals that Members had been able to study in advance. The 10-day rule for the closing of the Airgram was intended precisely for that purpose, namely, to allow Members to prepare for the items on the agenda, so that discussions at the Council meeting were constructive and focused. The next formal meeting of the Council was scheduled for 14-15 June – and the agenda for that meeting would close on 1 June.
59. Given that his term as Chair ended with the current meeting, he suggested that the new Chair be invited to consult with Members on how best to move forward with work under this agenda item.
60. The Council so agreed.
IP/C/M/107, IP/C/M/107/Add.1

1 https://www.nature.com/articles/s41591-022-02064-y

2 https://press.un.org/en/2022/sgsm21137.doc.htm

3 https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/coronaviruse/act-accelerator/tmtf-report-2.pdf?sfvrsn=c275dd3b_2&download=true