WTO negotiations on vaccine monopolies continue as leaked contracts reveals Pfizer’s abuse of monopoly powers

October 21, 2021: Last week’s meeting of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Council failed to decide on the temporary waiver on monopoly rights for COIVD-19 vaccines and related products, despite support from over 100 WTO member countries and numerous reports and protests urging it to do so. The waiver would enable the increase in global production needed to ramp up vaccination rates in low-income countries, which are currently only 3%.

Informal bilateral and other discussions will now continue towards a WTO General Council Meeting on November 22-23 which will consider a broad statement on trade and health, which will include a section dealing with the waiver proposal. This statement will then be debated at the WTO Ministerial Meeting on November 30-December 3. Pharmaceutical companies are still pressuring a few governments like the UK, Germany, Norway and Switzerland to block the waiver, while millions die and more infectious strains of the virus develop.

The necessity and urgency of the waiver for vaccine monopolies has been dramatised by a report by the US Public Citizen organisation which has analysed secret leaked contracts that expose Pfizer’s ruthless use of its monopoly over the supply and price of vaccines to extract maximum profits, and reduce its own risks.

For example, Pfizer’s contract to sell vaccines to Brazil prohibits the government from making any public announcement concerning the existence, subject matter or terms of the agreement, or commenting on its relationship with Pfizer without the prior written consent of the company. Other terms include that Brazil agrees that, in the event of non-payment, Pfizer can make claims against its public assets, but there can be no penalties for Pfizer if deliveries are late.

The Brazilian government is restricted from accepting Pfizer vaccine donations from other countries or buying Pfizer vaccines from others without Pfizer’s permission. If Brazil were to accept donated doses without Pfizer’s permission, Pfizer could immediately terminate the agreement. Upon termination, Brazil would be required to pay the full price for any remaining contracted doses. Any contractual disputes are subject not to Brazilian law, but to a secret International Chamber of Commerce arbitration tribunal applying New York law. This is similar to the notorious Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) system which empowers international corporations to claim millions in compensation from governments before unfair tribunals. The full report is here.