Negotiations on “flawed draft” to lift COVID19 medicine monopolies begin at WTO

16 May, 2022: After more than one year of delay, more detailed negotiations to lift patent monopolies on COVID19 medicines have begun in earnest at the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

Following the leaking of a “deeply flawed” draft supported by the EU, the WTO Director General, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, shared the proposal with the wider membership for discussion and negotiation.

Details of those initial discussions have now emerged, revealing deep disagreement on the issues of what medicines and types of intellectual property will be covered, which countries would be able to use a patent waiver, and how a waiver would interact with existing TRIPS rules.

According to reports from the Third World Network (TWN), China has offered to exempt itself from the patents waiver, while Switzerland and the UK continued to defend the existing regime on intellectual property.

Australia is reported to have “called for a creative solution” to the debate, suggesting a continuation of its stated position of facilitating discussion between key states, rather than supporting a comprehensive waiver.

Meanwhile, US President Biden hosted a Second COVID19 Summit between world leaders, where South Africa and India, the original proponents of a patent monopolies waiver called for a comprehensive waiver,  with South Africa’s President  saying: “We continue to advocate for a TRIPS waiver in the WTO to improve global access to vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics.” The Indian Prime Minister also supported a comprehensive waiver.

Negotiations are expected to continue over the coming months, with the next TRIPS Council meeting scheduled for July 6-7. It is not clear whether the issue will be discussed at the WTO Ministerial Conference (MC12) scheduled for June 12-15.