Huge civil society support for global open access to vaccines still blocked at the World Trade Organisation

April 19, 2021: Two hundred and fifty global, regional and national civil society organisations delivered the strongest statement yet in support of the waiver of intellectual property rights during the COVID-19 pandemic to World Trade Organisation Director General Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala on 13 April. Signatories from Australia included the Australian Council of Trade Unions, the Public Health Association of Australia, Australian Council for International Development, and the Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network.

The international signatories include Amnesty International, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), and the Third World Network. The letter challenged the Director-General to listen to the over 100 developing countries supporting the waiver. It asked her to reject the “third way” approach, which relies on existing exemptions in the WTO Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement. This "third way" is being supported by Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, New Zealand, Norway and Turkey.

Separately, over 170 former heads of state and government as well as Nobel Laureates on 14 April urged US President Joseph Biden to support the proposed TRIPS waiver.

At the more than five-hour virtual round table meeting chaired by Dr Ngozi on 14 April, trade ministers from India and South Africa as well as the World Health Organization director-general called for the temporary TRIPS waiver to ramp up production of diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines across countries to prevent and treat the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr Tedros said that "more than 800 million vaccine doses have been administered globally, but over 83% have gone to high-income or upper middle-income countries, while low-income countries have received just 0.2%."

There was no decision taken at the meeting. The next scheduled formal meeting of the WTO TRIPS Council is June 8-9, 2021, but there are likely to be further discussions before then.