WTO members must demand that any formal TRIPS waiver agreement includes waiving IP on COVID-19 treatments and diagnostics, addresses intellectual property barriers beyond patents
NEW YORK/GENEVA, MARCH 17, 2022—The reported potential compromise between the European Union (EU), India, South Africa, and the United States on the World Trade Organization (WTO) TRIPS waiver is a welcome step, but the text that was leaked this week does not adequately waive intellectual property (IP) on all COVID-19 medical tools. This leaked agreement to essentially only waive certain IP on COVID-19 vaccines is extremely concerning for millions of people worldwide who need affordable access to COVID-19 treatments and diagnostics as the global crisis continues, said the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).
According to MSF’s initial analysis of the leaked text, key limitations of the compromise include:
- It only covers vaccines;
- It is geographically limited in scope;
- It only covers patents and does not address other intellectual property barriers, such as trade secrets, which may cover critical information needed to facilitate manufacturing.
The waiver—which is currently supported by more than 100 low- and middle-income countries—was originally designed to lift IP monopolies on medical tools for the duration of the pandemic and help ensure access to COVID-19 vaccines, treatments, and diagnostics for everyone, everywhere.
The leaked text outlining this inadequate compromise appears to leave the door open for possible inclusion of treatments and diagnostics at a later stage. But delaying the decision on treatments is unacceptable, as many people will have no access to generic, lifesaving antivirals, and many countries are being forced to pay high prices for access to lifesaving treatments like baricitinib due to patent monopolies that block more affordable generic versions from being made. The compromise also fails to cover all countries. Furthermore, it limits “eligible members” to developing countries and only those who exported less than 10 percent of the world’s COVID-19 vaccine exports in 2021, effectively excluding Brazil and China from being able to use the waiver.
Dimitri Eynikel, EU policy advisor for MSF's Access Campaign, said of the potential compromise:
“While it is good to see the groundwork for a potential compromise on addressing COVID-19 intellectual property barriers, all WTO members should remain vigilant to the fact that it contains considerable limitations—and needs to be urgently improved.
“It is incredibly concerning that the leaked text currently only covers vaccines, but not treatments nor diagnostics. Excluding treatments and diagnostics is a critical weakness, especially as access to COVID-19 treatments remains a significant problem in many low- and middle-income countries, particularly in Latin America, in part because of patent barriers and restrictive licensing deals controlled by pharmaceutical corporations. Excluding countries with significant manufacturing and supply capacity like Brazil is highly problematic as it arbitrarily blocks potential critical avenues to increase access to COVID-19 medical tools for low- and middle-income countries.
“The world needs effective solutions to the inequities in access for all COVID-19 medical tools witnessed in this pandemic.
“The good news is there is still room for governments to improve and make sure that any final agreement adequately addresses the remaining barriers now missing in the leaked text of the compromise. We urge all WTO members to do so.”