WTO Geneva - Photo:Photo: WTO
Photo: WTO

COVID 19 and vaccine equity - What can the WTO contribute - Statement by ambassador Dagfinn Sørli, Chair of the TRIPS Council

Despite the shared objective and active engagement,fundamental differences remain, most importantly in relation to the basic assumptions underpinning the waiver request.

Director-General, Excellencies, Colleagues,

1. Thank you for this opportunity to provide participants with a brief overview of the state of play of discussions of IP-related issues in the context of the pandemic in the TRIPS Council.

2. In October 2020, India and South Africa introduced a request for a "waiver from certain provisions of the TRIPS Agreement for the prevention, containment and treatment of COVID-19”. The request proposes to waive Members’ obligations related to Copyrights, Industrial Designs, Patents and Undisclosed Information until widespread vaccination is in place globally, and the majority of the world's population has developed immunity. Since its introduction the waiver request has been co-sponsored by a significant number of other delegations.

3. Under the guidance of my predecessor as TRIPS Council Chair, Ambassador Mlumbi-Peter from South Africa, the Council pursued deliberations of the waiver request in a variety of formats, and in informal and formal meetings. At the General Council meetings in December and early March, the Chair reported that Members had not been able to reach consensus on the waiver request and indicated that Members would continue their consideration of the request in the TRIPS Council. Since I took up my duties as Chair of the TRIPS Council one month ago, I have continued along the same lines and engaged with Members in different formats to try and advance these discussions.

4. I am delighted to report that all delegations share the common goal of providing timely and secure access to high-quality, safe, efficacious, and affordable vaccines and medicines for all. Furthermore, delegations have engaged actively in the discussions, exchanged views, asked questions, provided replies and clarifications, including through a number of written submissions.

5. Despite the shared objective and active engagement, fundamental differences remain, most importantly in relation to the basic assumptions underpinning the waiver request. Delegations continue to differ on the fundamental question whether, and to what extent, intellectual property protection represents barriers or challenges to the achievement of our common objective, which could not be overcome by using the existing flexibilities. Co-sponsors are of the clear opinion that such challenges do exist and can only be effectively addressed by waiving certain TRIPS obligations. Other delegations remain unconvinced about the necessity of a waiver at the international level, with some arguing that a waiver might be counterproductive in relation to ongoing collaborative efforts.

6. While other issues are also being debated, these remain in my opinion the key questions. Without a minimum of common understanding of the nature of the challenge before us, it is difficult to see how a consensual approach to the waiver request can be established. As my job is to facilitate consensus among Members, I believe that we need to continue trying to build that common understanding. For that to happen, Members will have to continue engaging in good faith with each other with a clear sense of urgency and common purpose.

7. Let me close by welcoming the presence of partnering international organizations, civil society, and private sector here today. I am hopeful that your contributions in the form of factual information, analysis and insights will provide valuable input to the ongoing deliberations between WTO Members.

Thank you.