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USTR Discusses TRIPS Waiver Proposal for Covid-19 Vaccines with GAVI’s CEO

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US Trade Representative Katherine Tai, in a virtual meeting with GAVI’s CEO Dr. Seth Berkley, discussed, among other things, the proposed waiver of certain provisions of the WTO’s agreement on intellectual property rules for the manufacture of coronavirus vaccines.

In the virtual meeting with Berkley on Friday, Tai discussed increasing vaccine production, global health issues and the proposed waiver of certain provisions of the World Trade Organization Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) for COVID-19 pandemic, the USTR said in a statement.

The TRIPS Agreement is a minimum standards agreement, which allows members to provide more extensive protection of intellectual property if they so wish. Tai expressed her appreciation for the important role GAVI has played in securing and distributing vaccines for developing countries through COVAX and other initiatives, it said.

Tai highlighted her commitment to using trade policy to save lives in the pandemic and ensure that the United States, and the world, are better prepared in the future. She also welcomed Berkley’s views on how to accelerate the rollout and distribution of vaccines to developing countries, the USTR said.

The virtual meeting comes ahead of a May 5 meeting of the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) General Council, which is likely to discuss a proposal on the matter by India and South Africa. A day earlier, 10 Democratic senators sent a letter to President Joe Biden urging him to publicly support a temporary patent waiver for COVID-19 vaccines that would allow countries to manufacture treatments locally, expediting the global vaccination effort, saving countless lives and crushing the pandemic.

The proposal to temporarily waive the WTO’s intellectual property rules was put forward by India and South Africa in October. Over 60 former heads of state and 100 Nobel Prize winners on Wednesday signed a letter to Biden backing the effort. In February, more than 400 prominent US health, faith, consumer, labour, development and other organisations wrote to Biden, urging him to reverse Trump’s block on the waiver.

In a poll conducted by Data for Progress and Progressive International released Thursday, 60 per cent of American voters back the waiver, including 50 per cent of the registered Republicans. “Your administration has the opportunity to reverse the damage done by the Trump Administration to our nation’s global reputation and restore America’s public health leadership on the world stage,” the senators wrote.

“To bring the pandemic to its quickest end and save the lives of Americans and people around the world, we ask that you prioritise people over pharmaceutical company profits by reversing the Trump position and announcing U.S. support for the WTO TRIPS waiver.” The letter was led by senators Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Tammy Baldwin, Sherrod Brown, Richard Blumenthal, Edward J. Markey, Jeff Merkley, Chris Murphy, Chris Van Hollen and Raphael Warnock. The senators said the world is currently in a race to beat deadly coronavirus variants that will continue spreading unless more people around the world are vaccinated.

While wealthy nations are able to purchase more shots, international efforts to get the vaccine to the rest of the world, like the World Health Organisation’s so-called COVAX effort, are falling woefully short of increasing the global supply to a level that is needed to stomp out the virus. Simultaneously, another group of 18 Republican lawmakers have written a separate letter to Biden against such a proposal arguing that the US would lose vital research and development capacity needed to prepare for future pandemics and other health security threats.

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