EU Parliament and APEC back vaccine rule change as WTO waiver negotiations begin, but G-7 disappoints

June 14, 2021: The European Parliament passed a resolution on June 10, 2021, that supported negotiations for a temporary waiver of some WTO rules on patents to improve global access to affordable COVID-19-related medical products and to address global production constraints and supply shortages. This resolution puts pressure on the EU Commission’s lack of support for the proposed World Trade Organisation waiver expressed in an alternative proposal that would not substantially change current WTO rules.

This follows a virtual meeting of the 21 members of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum (APEC), including the US and Australia, which also endorsed text-based WTO negotiations, including the waiver proposal.

The WTO TRIPS (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) Council decided last week to commence text-based negotiations for the waiver, around a revised proposal from South Africa, India and others. Negotiations take place behind closed doors but one tweeted report from the meeting indicates that the United States, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Ukraine, Brazil, Norway, China and Chinese Taipei endorsed the move towards text-based discussions. However, apart from the US, which has supported a waiver on vaccine patents, the report does not indicate whether Australia is actually supporting the waiver proposal. The EU no-change proposal was also tabled at the meeting.

The June 11-13 G-7 meeting of the seven governments of the world’s richest countries, which Australia attended as an observer, did not mention the waiver in its statement. Instead the meeting pledged that G-7 countries would donate 1 billion doses of vaccines to low-income countries over the next year and encouraged voluntary arrangements with pharmaceutical companies to increase production.

The World Health Organisation and community groups supporting the waiver, quoted in the British Medical Journal, said this falls far short of the estimated 11 billion doses needed to vaccinate the global population, and will still mean up to a three-year delay in reaching this goal. Donations are needed but the vaccine waiver is essential to scale up production of vaccines and other treatments to avoid millions of deaths in low-income countries.

The WTO negotiations will continue at informal meetings, and supporters of the waiver are pressing for an outcome at the WTO General Council Meeting on July 22, 2021.