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WTO Text Would Undermine Global Access to Medicines

Public Health Experts Call for a #TrueTRIPSWaiver

In October 2020, India and South Africa proposed a waiver of World Trade Organization (WTO) intellectual property barriers that limit global production of COVID-19 vaccines, tests and treatments. On March 15, 2022, a leaked text emerged that is dramatically different from — and significantly worse than — the original proposal. The WTO Director-General formally introduced that text with negligible changes on May 2, 2022. The worst elements of this counterproposal can be traced directly to the European Union and the United States. 

Civil society and academic experts around the world have called the counterproposal “the lowest common denominator,” an “abomination,” and “worse than nothing.”  But it’s not a done deal yet.

This text: 

  • Is worse than the status quo and would actually impose new barriers on countries attempting to remove intellectual property barriers and increase COVID medicines production. Instead of waiving barriers, it would impose new conditions limiting the existing WTO rules that now allow countries to issue compulsory licenses for patented products, for example a new obligation to identify all patents covered by a waiver application.
  • Does not cover COVID tests or treatments. The leaked text would only cover vaccines, at a stage in the pandemic when world leaders acknowledge that testing and treatments are critically important. Tests and treatments are ostensibly to be considered six months later if this text is agreed, but the WTO is notorious for missing deadlines.
  • Does not cover all of the intellectual property barriers to COVID medicine access. It reiterates existing rules on patents while adding new barriers. It does not even address the other categories of intellectual property covered in the original waiver proposal: trade secrets, undisclosed data, copyright, and industrial design. Leaving trade secret and other barriers in place would impede the timely expansion of mRNA production and other cutting-edge technologies. 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 appears to exclude China and Brazil), as well as developed countries that might export to countries in need. It may also inadvertently exclude least developed countries.

Civil Society Reactions From the U.S. and Around the World

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