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Corporate Greed and Rich Countries’ Cowardice Lead WTO to Abandon Proposed Sharing of COVID Treatment Technologies

Washington, D.C. — Last night, news broke that the World Trade Organization (WTO) is preparing to reject a proposal that would have relaxed pharmaceutical monopolies and supported global sharing of COVID-19 therapeutic and diagnostic technologies.

In response, Global Trade Watch director Melinda St. Louis issued the following statement:

“In a pandemic, among the most precious resources is time. By this measure, the rich countries at the WTO, swayed by the profiteering interests of Big Pharma, were shamefully negligent. While waiving cumbersome rules that inhibit sharing of COVID-19 medical technologies should have been a priority as soon as we understood the magnitude of the pandemic, rich countries blocked a waiver for COVID vaccines for years. They then delivered a woefully inadequate decision in June 2022 that applied only to vaccines and have now — after a long delay — denied this extremely modest proposal to extend the June 2022 decision to cover COVID tests and treatments

“Big Pharma’s unfathomable profit margins would have hardly budged under this modest proposal, but their CEOs and lobbyists did not want the precedent of another WTO decision shifting the needle even slightly away from their sacrosanct intellectual property rights and toward public health. The urgency of the proposal became clearer after the U.S. government’s October 2023 study revealed the ongoing unmet need for COVID treatments. Yet, rich countries, including our own, were not brave enough to stand up to Big Pharma to save lives.  

“We will never forget the critical time the WTO wasted or the untold lives lost because rich countries refused to share the doses and knowledge that scientists around the world and public funds helped produce.

“We thank South Africa, India, and the many governments, public health organizations, and global justice advocates who supported the original comprehensive waiver and helped shine a light on our trade regime’s deadly prioritization of intellectual property over public health.”