Amid growing concern over access to Covid-19 medical products, hundreds of advocacy groups are urging the World Trade Organization to waive some provisions in a trade deal governing intellectual property rights so drugs and vaccines can be more easily obtained, especially by low-income countries.
Earlier this month, the South African and Indian governments proposed that a WTO council, which is meeting this week, waive some rules for patents, industrial designs, copyrights, and protection of trade secrets. And their proposal argued the waiver “should continue until widespread vaccination is in place globally, and the majority of the world’s population has developed immunity” to the coronavirus.
The proposal reflects anxiety as wealthy nations — notably, the U.S., the U.K., Germany, and France — strike deals with various drug makers for hundreds of millions of doses of vaccines that are still being tested. But poorer countries lack the means to place such orders, and their officials fear that inequitable access will cause further illness and deaths, and the coronavirus will not be contained.
With all due respect to the WTOand these hundreds od advocacy groups, this would result in the WTO exceeding the aegis of another important UN agency (WIPO) and this would set a dangerous precedent allowing the WTO to imfirnge on WIPO’s mandate for the simple trade justifications.
The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) is the global forum for intellectual property policy, services, information and cooperation. A specialized agency of the United Nations, WIPO assists its 193 member states in developing a balanced international IP legal framework to meet society’s evolving needs. It provides business services for obtaining IP rights in multiple countries and resolving disputes. It delivers capacity-building programs to help developing countries benefit from using IP. And it provides free access to unique knowledge banks of IP information.
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