Leaked WTO Proposal Is Not the COVID-19 Medicines Waiver We Need

Public Health Experts Call for a #TrueTRIPSWaiver

On March 15, 2022, a leaked text emerged on the waiver of World Trade Organization (WTO) intellectual property rights for COVID-19 products. This new proposal is dramatically different from — and worse than — the original TRIPS (Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property) Waiver proposed in October 2020.

This proposed text: 

  • Does not cover COVID tests or treatments. The proposal only covers vaccines, at a stage in the pandemic when world leaders acknowledge that testing and treatments are critically important. If this proposal is agreed, tests and treatments are ostensibly to be considered six months later, but the WTO is notorious for missing deadlines.
  • Does not cover all of the intellectual property barriers to COVID medicine access. The proposal covers only patents, and not the other categories of intellectual property addressed in the original waiver proposal: copyright, trade secrets, undisclosed data and industrial design. Many key COVID-19 vaccines and medicines are protected by thorny thickets of intertwined IP protection, not just a patent or two.
  • Excludes entire countries. It applies only to “developing countries” that “exported <10%” of the world’s vaccines in 2021 (so excludes China and Brazil). It may also inadvertently exclude least developed countries. 
  • Could impose new barriers to production of generics. Supposed “clarifications” of existing rules could create new hoops for countries to jump through, for example an obligation to identify all patents covered by a waiver application, when that is not required under current WTO rules. 

The worst elements of this proposal can be traced directly to the United States and European Union. But it’s not a done deal yet. 

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