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After months of debate, WTO members took a first, small step on Wednesday towards an agreement that aims to boost production of COVID vaccines and treatments through patent waivers or compulsory licensing agreements.

The World Trade Organization has found it difficult to move forward on the hotly debated issue, as all decisions of the World Trade Body must be made by consensus among all 164 member states.

But during a meeting on Wednesday, the countries finally backed the initiation of an agreement-drafting process and “agreed to the urgency of this discussion,” said a Geneva trade official.

Opinions, meanwhile, vary widely on the matter, the sales representative said, adding that an initial progress report on the text-based discussions is due for May 21-22. July is expected.

Since October, the WTO has faced demands led by India and South Africa for a temporary lifting of intellectual property protection. Proponents argue that it will boost the production of vaccines, treatments, diagnostics, and other vital medical tools in developing countries that will help fight COVID-19.

This, they argued, could help to address, in particular, the serious inequality in access to vaccines.

This notion has long met with fierce opposition from pharmaceutical giants and their host countries, who insisted that patents were not the main obstacle to increasing production and warned that the move could hinder innovation.

Positions seemed to shift a bit last month as Washington advocated a worldwide patent waiver on COVID jabs and other long-time opponents spoke out openly to discuss the matter.

But others stayed with their weapons.

Some countries, like Switzerland, prefer a scenario in which pharmaceutical companies enter into voluntary licensing agreements, as AstraZeneca did with the Serum Institute of India (SII) to conduct its COVID-19 jabs.

And the European Commission tabled a counter-proposal to the WTO last Friday calling for a multilateral pact to boost the production of COVID-19 vaccines, not by suspending patents, but through compulsory license agreements and calling on countries To lift export restrictions.

This text, together with a revised proposal from India and South Africa, supported by more than 60 countries, will form the basis for the negotiations.

In the debate on Wednesday, US executive director David Bisbee emphasized Washington’s strong belief in the protection of intellectual property.

“But we must do whatever is necessary to accelerate the production and fair distribution of vaccines,” he said, insisting that “the WTO must show that it can act and act efficiently in a global crisis to save the lives of the world simple people to improve. “

“We all have to come together to find a solution quickly, especially as the pandemic continues to spread with new variants.”

Bisbee said Washington is still considering India and South Africa’s revised proposal, adding that it appears to mark a “relatively modest change”.

EU does not support the suspension of the COVID vaccine patent at the WTO

© 2021 AFP

Quote: WTO goes one step further in talks to waive COVID vaccine patents (2021, June 9), accessed on June 9, 2021 from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2021-06-wto-inches- covid-vaccine-patent.html

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