118 European MPs ask EU to lift opposition to TRIPS waiver proposal for accessible vaccines

Economic Time, February 25, 2021

This call comes in view of the European Council meeting on Thursday and the crucial decision to be made by all Member States at the WTO General Council on March 1-2.

As many as 118 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) on Wednesday urged the European Commission and the European Council to review their opposition to the TRIPS waiver proposal at the World Trade Organisation (WTO), which serves to enable greater access to affordable Covid-19 health technologies, including vaccines, in particular towards developing and middle-income countries.

This call comes in view of the European Council meeting on Thursday and the crucial decision to be made by all Member States at the WTO General Council on March 1-2. Earlier this month a group of 14 Members of European Parliament (MEPs) wrote to EU Commission and EU Council backing India & South Africa’s joint proposal to the World Trade Organization requesting an exemption from patents and other intellectual property rights concerning drugs, vaccines, diagnostics, personal protective equipment, and other medical technologies throughout the pandemic.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, the need to ensure global open access to Covid-19 health technologies and to rapidly scale up their manufacturing and supply has been widely acknowledged. However, despite efforts and statements made by the European Commission and several heads of state in support of treating Covid-19 medical products as global public goods, this has not yet translated into actionable realities,” according to the joint statement issued by 118 MEPs and accessed by ET.

“…the EU’s open opposition to the TRIPS waiver risks exacerbating a dangerous North-South divide when it comes to affordable access to Covid-19 diagnostics, personal protective equipment, treatments and vaccines. The WTO decision on a potential waiver offers a crucial and much-needed act of effective solidarity, as it is an important step towards increasing local production in partner countries and, ultimately, suppressing this pandemic on a global scale. As the Commission President has repeatedly stated, no one is safe until everyone is safe,” the MEPs rued.

Supporting India’s case as a vaccine supplier the MEPs stated, “Besides the removal of potential legal barriers to production of health tools, enabled by the TRIPS waiver, the sharing of know-how and technologies with GMP manufacturers from third countries is essential. Pharmaceutical companies must play a proactive role in this regard. Thus far, the EU strategy has mostly focused on domestic production. In view of the difficulties of manufacturers to deliver the committed doses to the EU and the EU’s export control mechanism, it is crucial to enable production outside the EU.”

“The EU must step up its leadership and ensure it promotes a genuine multilateral system of solidarity, supporting all countries to respond efficiently to the pandemic. While we acknowledge the Commission’s support to the COVAX facility, the unwillingness shown at the WTO to consider all options to scale up global production of vaccines and to engage in a substantive dialogue with a growing number of sponsors of the TRIPS waiver is very concerning. We, members of the European Parliament, therefore call on the Commission and the Member States not to block the proposed TRIPS waiver, and to engage into a constructive dialogue with partner countries, in order to enable their local production capacities and increase their access to Covid-19 treatments.”

In December all 164 member states of the World Trade Organization met last week in Geneva to discuss a proposal from India and South Africa to waive broad sections of the WTO’s intellectual property rules and to try to forge an agreement on how patents developed in the race against Covid-19 should be recognized. The meeting ended without consensus.

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