Media Release: New COVID strain postpones WTO meeting, confirms need to change WTO rules to share vaccine knowledge and increase global vaccine production


Media Release November 27, 2021: The World Trade Organisation (WTO) Ministerial Meeting scheduled for November 30-December 3 has been postponed indefinitely because the new Omicron strain of the COVID-19 virus in African countries with low vaccination rates prevents many African and other delegations from attending the meeting.

Dr Patricia Ranald, Convener of the Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network, said today:

“The postponement of the WTO Ministerial Meeting exposes the shocking failure of the WTO for over a year to agree to share vaccine knowledge and increase global vaccine production to ensure access in low-income countries.”

“This new strain of the virus is a direct result of vaccination rates below 5% in African low-income countries, where millions are dying and new strains are developing.”

“WTO intellectual property rules give control of COVID vaccines and treatments to a few pharmaceutical companies, which have sold most vaccines to rich countries, making tens of billions in vaccine revenue.”

“Sixty-four developing countries have sponsored a temporary waiver on these WTO rules, which is supported by over 100 of the 164 WTO member countries. The waiver would enable increased production in developing countries like South Africa and India which already produce generic medicines. Booster shots and children’s vaccinations will increase global demand even more in 2022, so the waiver is even more urgent.”

“Consensus on the waiver is being blocked by a few governments from high-income countries including Germany, the EU, the UK, Switzerland which have been lobbied by their pharmaceutical industries.”

“Failure to support the waiver is a major crisis for the credibility of the WTO as an institution. Instead of acting in solidarity with all of its members the WTO is supporting the interests of global pharmaceutical companies at the expense of millions of lives.”

US President Biden has called on WTO members to waive intellectual property protections for COVID vaccines, so these vaccines can be manufactured globally, saying ‘ I endorsed this position in April; this news today reiterates the importance of moving on this quickly’.”

“The Australian government has claimed to support the waiver but has refused to sponsor it. The government has tried to have it both ways in the debate by sponsoring a draft WTO statement on trade and health which did not mention the waiver.”

“We call on the Australian Government to get off the fence and support the waiver through sponsorship and stronger advocacy. In place of the Ministerial Meeting, on-line meetings of the WTO Intellectual Property Council and the WTO General Council, which have the power to make the decision, should meet urgently to support the waiver.”