‘Unhelpful’ WTO in deadlock over TRIPS waiver extension
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‘Unhelpful’ WTO in deadlock over TRIPS waiver extension

Logo of the headquarters of the World Trade Organization (WTO) with logo at the entrance located in Centre William Rappard along Lake Geneva. Photo taken March 18th, 2022, Geneva, Switzerland.

Civil society and industry representatives met in Geneva yesterday, September 28 to discuss a potential expansion of the TRIPS waiver

The World Trade Organization is “unhelpful and increasingly irrelevant” to low- and middle-income countries, an access to medicine organisation warned during a debate on a potential expansion of the COVID TRIPS waiver.

The trade body invited external stakeholders yesterday, September 28, to air their views on whether to extend the waiver of certain intellectual property protections to cover COVID diagnostics and therapies at a meeting in Geneva.

The original deal, agreed in 2022, only covered vaccines.

Yesterday’s informal session included speakers from the pharmaceutical industry, research organisations, and academia.

Pimchanok Pitfield, Thailand’s ambassador to the WTO and chair of the TRIPS Council, said in June that the organisation was in deadlock over a potential expansion of the waiver.

Pitfield’s June statement referenced a lack of progress amid domestic consultations on the waiver.

The US International Trade Commission is scheduled to deliver a report on the merits of expanding the waiver by October 17.

The US pharmaceutical industry consistently argued against a TRIPS waiver in the run-up to the 2022 deal and has opposed any further carve-outs.

But access to medicine advocates have said the limited exceptions agreed in 2022 were too little, too late.

Fatima Hassan, director of the South African NGO Health Justice Initiative (HJI), told TRIPS council members yesterday that rich countries had turned poorer states into “beggars” during the pandemic.

“What we experienced in our region of Africa was vaccine nationalism, and pernicious bullying by manufacturers and suppliers in a ‘take it or leave it’ situation.

“For the better part of 2021, we were drip-fed supplies, affecting our country’s entire vaccination programme.

“All the while, the WTO delayed negotiations and it has, over time, risked becoming unhelpful and increasingly irrelevant for people in the Global South,” Hassan said.

The HJI has played a major role in the health access debate in South Africa in recent months, especially over the availability of tuberculosis (TB) drugs.

Last month, the NGO said it would work with South Africa’s Competition Commission on an investigation into Johnson & Johnson’s pricing of TB drug bedaquiline.

The council is next scheduled to meet on October 30 and 31 while the next ministerial meeting will be held in February 2024.

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