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India, EU, US, SA Reach Consensus on Elements of IP Waiver for COVID Vaccines

India, EU, US, SA Reach Consensus on Elements of IP Waiver for COVID Vaccines

Toy figurines, a syringe and a vial labelled ‘COVID-19 vaccine’ placed in front of the India flag. Photo: Reuters/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File photo

New Delhi: The United States, European Union, India and South Africa have reached a consensus on key elements of a long-sought intellectual property waiver for COVID-19 vaccines, according to reports which reviewed the proposed text.

Reuters reported that sources familiar with the talks said the tentative agreement among the four World Trade Organisation (WTO) members still needs formal approvals from the parties before it can be considered official. Any agreement must be accepted by the WTO’s 164 member countries in order to be adopted.

Some elements of the consensus deal, including whether the length of any patent waivers would be three years or five years, still need to be finalised, according to the text. It would apply only to patents for COVID-19 vaccines, which would be much more limited in scope than a broad proposed WTO waiver that had won backing from the United States, according to the document.

The document authorises use of “patented subject matter required for the production and supply of COVID-19 vaccines without the consent of the right holder to the extent necessary to address the COVID-19 pandemic”.

It said IP rights would also be waived for ingredients and processes necessary for COVID-19 vaccine manufacture, a move aimed at granting critical know-how to many countries lacking expertise, especially for advanced mRNA-type vaccines.

The text contained several limitations, including that the waiver is only available to WTO member countries that exported less than 10% of global exports of COVID-19 vaccine doses in 2021. According to The Hindu, it is unclear if India falls under this definition.

The newspaper also reported that as the provisions of the waiver only applied to “patented” products, the agreement would not facilitate the manufacture of vaccines developed by firms such as Moderna and Pfizer in India because they have not patented these vaccines in the country.

“More than the patent, it’s the manufacturing know-how that matters. This aspect, which falls under trade secret, may continue to be withheld,” a person familiar with the developments told The Hindu.

The tentative agreement does not include COVID-19 treatments or tests, and the limitations would likely exclude China from any waiver, a source familiar with the negotiations said.

The text, which was produced in negotiations last week, was being circulated to officials in Brussels, Washington, Johannesburg and New Delhi before being presented to other WTO members. Adoption of the IP waiver by the consensus-driven organisation is far from certain. Reuters said.

‘Promising path’

A spokesman for the US Trade Representative said the informal discussions among the four principal parties had not yet resulted in an agreement but had produced a promising compromise and consultations were continuing.

“The difficult and protracted process has resulted in a compromise outcome that offers the most promising path toward achieving a concrete and meaningful outcome,” Adam Hodge said in an emailed statement to Reuters.

The tentative deal comes after months of negotiations over how to accelerate COVID-19 vaccine production in developing countries, where vaccination rates have lagged far behind wealthy countries.

In talks brokered by WTO director general Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the United States, EU, India and South Africa broke away from negotiations among the organisation’s 164 members to try to craft an agreement.

Objections from some countries with large pharmaceuticals sectors, including Switzerland and Britain, had stalled progress in negotiations among the larger group. India and South Africa had first proposed the WTO vaccine IP waiver in 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic exploded.

A spokesperson for the pharmaceutical industry trade group PhRMA said efforts to waive intellectual property commitments are unnecessary and harm efforts to end the pandemic. Voluntary technology transfer and partnerships have helped vaccine makers to target production of 20 billion doses in 2022, more than enough for the world, she said.

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