More than 100 US lawmakers have written to President Joe Biden urging him to support India’s proposal to the WTO to temporarily lift certain intellectual property barriers and allow countries to locally manufacture COVID-19 diagnostics and vaccines.
The Biden administration has not made a decision on the issue yet. The proposal by India and South Africa will be a focus at the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) meeting on May 5.
“We write to convey the urgent need for the United States to support the temporary waiver of some Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) rules proposed by India and South Africa at the WTO, during the COVID-19 emergency,” a group of influential American lawmakers wrote in a letter to Biden.
In their letter dated April 30, the lawmakers said that from a global public health perspective, this waiver is vital to ensuring sufficient volume of and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics around the world.
The TRIPS waiver is also essential to ensure all global economies, including the US’ economy, can recover from the pandemic and thrive. Simply put, we must make vaccines, testing, and treatments available everywhere if we are going to crush the virus anywhere, the letter said.
Among others, the letter has been signed by Congresswoman Karen Bass, Chair of House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health; Rosa DeLauro, Chair of the House Appropriations Committee; Eddie Bernice Johnson, Chair of the House Committee on Science and Technology; Pramila Jayapal, Chair of the Progressive Caucus; Brad Sherman, Co-Chair of House Caucus on Indian and Americans; Ro Khanna, Co-Vice Chair of the House Caucus on India and Indian Americans and Raja Krishnamoorthi.
In the letter, the lawmakers impressed upon the President that from a global health perspective, the waiver is vital to ensure volume and equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics. Unless countries cooperate and share medical technology, there simply will not be sufficient supply of vaccines, diagnostics, and treatments for many countries – particularly developing countries – to effectively fight COVID-19, they wrote.
Lawmakers said that the globalised economy cannot recover if only parts of the world are vaccinated. The TRIPS waiver will help everyone across the world. As such they urged Biden to swiftly act to bring the pandemic to its quickest end and save the lives of Americans and people around the world and announce US support for the WTO TRIPS waiver.
Two weeks ago, a group of 10 influential Senators wrote a similar letter to Biden urging him to support India and South Africa’s proposal at the WTO for a temporary TRIPS waiver during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The letter was written by Senator Bernie Sanders (Chairman, Budget Committee). In the letter, the Senators endorsed the temporary lifting of restrictions of intellectual property barriers to allow countries to locally manufacture COVID-19 diagnostics, treatments and vaccines to ensure equitable access to healthcare.
They have said that supporting the TRIPS waiver would help everyone and the current flexibilities in TRIPS are ill-suited to a global crisis. A targeted, time-limited waiver would help to flatten the curve and also help restore America’s leadership in public health on the global stage.
“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. To bring the pandemic to its quickest end and save the lives of Americans and people around the world, we ask that you prioritize people over pharmaceutical company profits by reversing the Trump position and announcing US support for the WTO TRIPS waiver,” the Senators wrote.
In their letter, the 108 US Congressmen argued that the TRIPS waiver proposed by India and South Africa in October 2020 would temporarily lift certain intellectual property barriers and allow countries to locally manufacture COVID-19 diagnostics, treatments, and vaccines, thereby increasing timely global access.
“The waiver is supported by more than 100 nations. The Trump administration led opposition to the waiver and, with a handful of other WTO signatories, has blocked its adoption,” they said.
According to the letter, this temporary TRIPS waiver is key for countries to manufacture necessary supplies of COVID-19 treatments and vaccines. The current flexibilities included in TRIPS are ill-suited to an urgent, global crisis.
TRIPS allows countries to negotiate compulsory licenses, a flexibility that was reaffirmed in the Doha Declaration. However, compulsory licenses must be negotiated by each WTO member country and for each patent or other protection applying to each individual product.
“This country-by-country and product-by-product approach is unworkable given the speed and global scope of access necessary to combat a global pandemic. Additionally, the 2020 Special 301 Report makes it clear that the United States applies diplomatic power to discourage developing countries from using compulsory licenses.,” they said.
“The temporary TRIPS waiver would allow countries and manufacturers to directly access and share technologies to produce vaccines and therapeutics without causing trade sanctions or international disputes,” they wrote.