On eve of WTO meetings, vaccine equity advocates slam inertia on waiving vaccine monopolies

November 20, 2021: Ahead of crucial World Trade Organisation (WTO) meetings in Geneva on November 22 and November 30, advocates for global vaccine equity have slammed sluggish progress of negotiations for the temporary waiver of WTO intellectual property rules which give pharmaceutical companies 20-year monopolies on the production and price of vaccines. Most vaccines have been sold to rich countries, while less than 5% of people in low-income countries have been vaccinated. The waiver would allow developing countries like India and South Africa with manufacturing capacity to produce their own vaccines.

In negotiations leading up to the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference (MC12) on November 30 – December 3, a few wealthy nations remain opposed to the waiver on vaccine monopolies, known as the ‘TRIPS Waiver’. They include the European Union, led by Germany, Switzerland, and the UK, which have been lobbied by their large pharmaceutical industries. The waiver is supported by over 100 of 164 WTO member states, including the US, Australia and most low-income countries.

Separate from the negotiations on the TRIPs Waiver proposal, some WTO member states, including Australia, have proposed a more general WTO statement on trade and health, known as the ‘Walker Process, chaired by the New Zealand Ambassador to the WTO, David Walker. But this statement does not even mention the waiver.

A broad coalition of 76 civil society organisations has described the Walker Process as a ‘sham’ statement, as the draft text excludes the most important topic: the “TRIPS waiver” on vaccine monopolies.

“The reality is that the Walker process is a deplorable attempt by the WTO to cover up what should be a grave humiliation: its inability to agree to remove key obstacles to resolving the COVID-19 pandemic by waiving intellectual property barriers as per the TRIPS waiver proposal. Millions of people have died because of the WTO’s vaccine apartheid and inequitable access.”

The organisations include international groups like Amnesty International, the Peples’ Health Movement, Third World Network, and national trade justice groups like AFTINET. The original proponents of the waiver on vaccine monopolies, India and South Africa, are still pursuing the goal of an agreement in separate negotiations on the waiver in time for the WTO Ministerial meeting November 30-December 3. To read the full statement from 76 organisations click here.