WTO: A missed opportunity to put people before patents

The failure of states to agree on a waiver of certain key international trade rules risks hampering global efforts to tackle COVID-19, Amnesty International said today.
 
Last night, members of the World Trade Organisation failed to agree on a landmark proposal made by India, South Africa, Kenya and Eswatini to temporarily waive certain provisions of the TRIPS Agreement - a global treaty governing intellectual property rights - relating to COVID-19 medical technologies.

If agreed, the waiver would suspend the implementation, application and enforcement of certain intellectual property rights, such as patents on pharmaceutical products, and facilitate the development and manufacture of more and lower-cost COVID-19 diagnostics, treatments and vaccines.

Faced with an unprecedented pandemic, there is an urgent need to remove any barrier that may prevent the development and production of sufficient quantities of affordable COVID-19 diagnostics, treatments and vaccines.
Steve Cockburn, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Global Issues. 


 “Faced with an unprecedented pandemic, there is an urgent need to remove any barrier that may prevent the development and production of sufficient quantities of affordable COVID-19 diagnostics, treatments and vaccines. International human rights standards and trade rules are clear that protecting intellectual property must never come at the expense of public health. This proposal remains a critical opportunity for all countries to show they are ready to work together to save lives and protect livelihoods,” said Steve Cockburn, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Global Issues. 
 
“We are encouraged by the number of countries that have chosen to put public health before intellectual property rights, but those states that failed to support this proposal risk holding back global efforts to protect people from COVID-19. Now more than ever, the world needs governments and companies to work together and share their knowledge and technologies. With more than a million lives already lost to this virus, action is desperately needed to ensure global access to these medical products as soon as possible.”  
 
The Waiver Proposal was made by India and South Africa, and co-sponsored by Kenya and Eswatini. It was discussed at the WTO’s TRIPS Council, which took place on 15 and 16 October. The proposal was supported by a large number of low-income and middle-income countries, as well as global institutions like UNAIDS and UNITAID, and over 300 civil society organisations. However, it failed to gain the support of several richer countries, including those with strong pharmaceutical industries, and a decision was deferred until future meetings.