US Trade Rep Tai and US Religious Leaders meet on WTO rules for fair access to COVID vaccines

August 5, 2021: Leaders of the Catholic, Methodist, Episcopal, Lutheran, Presbyterian and United Church of Christ Churches and the trade union centre the AFL-CIO joined Jubilee USA for a meeting with US Trade Representative Katherine Tai yesterday to support the waiving of COVID-19 vaccine patents at the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

"Religious institutions and voices are strongly urging that all COVID solutions protect the vulnerable, jobs and our planet," noted Eric LeCompte, the Executive Director of Jubilee USA. "This is the first time a US Trade Representative met with major religious leaders. The meeting was important because all of the faith leaders represent communities in the developing world who are facing devastating third and fourth waves of the pandemic.

“The meeting with Tai was positive and she understands the urgent need to increase vaccine production for developing countries,” said LeCompte. “Waiving vaccine COVID patents will help produce more vaccines and save lives in the developing world.”

The high hope following the Biden-Harris announcement on May 5, 2021, of US support for a suspension of patents on COVID-19 vaccines has not translated into action at the WTO. There the European Union, led by Germany, has put forward a proposal which does not change existing WTO rules but is delaying the patent suspension proposal by South Africa and India and supported by over 100 other countries.

By not taking action, the USTR is allowing the EU, Australia, and a handful of other countries to prevent the WTO from delivering the most useful and rational solution to addressing the shortage of COVID-19-related health products and technologies. This is why the pressure from US religious leaders and trade unions has been brought to bear on the USTR.

The WTO General Council met on July 27-28, and received a report that the proposal for suspending COVID-19- related patents was still under discussion. Negotiations will continue in the WTO Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights Council leading up to the WTO Ministerial Meeting set for November 30 – December 3, 2021.