Over 150 civil society organisations (CSOs) from across the world have called on all trade ministers participating in the ongoing 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to negotiate an effective and meaningful TRIPS Waiver that covers all major intellectual property rights on all COVID-19 medical products for all people.
India has already raised its concerns over the current draft as the proposal made by a group of WTO members led by South Africa and India had proposed the waiver to cover all Covid products and not just vaccines as proposed in the current text.
In an open letter to the WTO trade ministers, the CSOs seeks rejection of the current draft ministerial decision on the TRIPS agreement. “We call on you to not accept the current proposed COVID-19 decision on the TRIPS Agreement as it does not deliver a meaningful global response to the pandemic and fails to uphold many of the key founding principles of the WTO, including non-discriminatory treatment by and among members, and transparency,” says the letter.
The CSOs include organisations like Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative (DNDi), MSF Access Campaign, Peoples Health Movement and Human Rights Watch.
“People continue to die from COVID-19 without access to life-saving treatments. It is therefore indefensible that the draft Ministerial Decision does not immediately apply to all COVID-19 medical tools, including therapeutics and diagnostics. The failure of the text to address intellectual property barriers beyond patents severely limits its effectiveness in increasing production and supply. The draft Ministerial Decision is discriminatory as it arbitrarily excludes some of the world’s largest producers of medical tools and ‘encourages developing countries with export capacity to opt out’ from using the proposed decision to produce and supply medical tools. This is contradictory and counterproductive to saving people’s lives by ensuring the access to medical tools they need,” the CSOs letter points out.
The organisations say it is unacceptable that the text restricts the free movement and rapid distribution of needed medical products during a global pandemic by imposing a ban on the re-exportation of COVID-19 vaccines produced under the decision.
“Under the guise of ‘clarifying’ existing flexibilities under the TRIPS Agreement, the proposed text risks adding restrictions and complex bureaucratic conditions resulting in hurdles to the production and supply of COVID-19 medical tools. These, together with never-before required time limits and product limits applied to clarifying the existing public health flexibilities, would set a negative precedent for responses to future health challenges. The process to reach the current draft text has been flawed, discriminatory and lacking in transparency. It has given outsized influence to the opponents of additional intellectual property flexibilities while limiting, or even excluding, the voice of some countries hit hardest by inequality in access to COVID-19 technologies. In addition, civil society organisations have not been able to participate meaningfully in the process and have been criticised for raising legitimate concerns,” they say.
The CSOs want the WTO trade ministers to not accept this current text and demand a real and effective TRIPS Waiver, delivered via democratic, transparent and accountable negotiations.