WTO to start negotiations on COVID 19 vaccine supply

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On Wednesday, 9 June, World Trade Organization members agreed to start formal negotiations on a plan to boost the COVID 19 vaccine supply to developing countries, but face rival proposals - one without waiver of intellectual property rights and one without waiver

Many emerging nations, which have been supported by South Africa and India, have been pushing for eight months for a temporary waiver of the IP rights on vaccines and other treatments. This could allow the local manufacturers to produce the shots, something the proponents say is essential to redress the shocking supply inequity.

Other developed nations, many home of larger pharmaceutical companies, have resisted, arguing that a waiver would not reduce production and inhibit future research and development on vaccines and therapeutics.

The European Union presented a plan supported by Britain, Switzerland and South Korea, which it argues would more effectively broadens supply. It says existing WTO rules already allow countries to grant licenses to manufacturers even without the permission of the patent-holder.

On 16 June, the WTO members agreed to begin negotiations and produce a report outlining their progress on the vaccine supply plan by 27 July when the general council of the WTO meets, a Geneva trade official said.

This is a major breakthrough - after eight months of stalling, Leena Menghany, global IP adviser for the medical aid group MSF, which backs a waiver.

A surprise shift to support waivers on the Americans last month heaped pressure on opponents, but Washington trade officials seem to favour one limited to vaccines.

The waiver proposal from the emerging nations also includes diagnostics, therapeutics and medical devices. This proposal, whose text was revised in May, also sets a time span of at least three years and could enable a single member of the WTO to extend it indefinitely.

The United States told delegates that it was still reviewing the original proposal, but its initial reaction was that it was only a modest change from the revised, on which WTO members had not reached the required consensus.

It also indicated that discussions needed a revised scope and WTO members should focus on what actions would be needed to address vaccine supply and distribution specifically and on areas that are likely to be accepted by other countries as soon as possible.

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