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On Sunday, the World Trade Organization will hold a long-delayed ministerial conference to craft a response to the Covid-19 pandemic, but the issue likely to generate the most debate is a highly controversial proposal to temporarily waive intellectual property rights for vaccines. A version was first introduced in October 2020 by South Africa and India, but appeared to face the proverbial uphill battle until several months later, when the Biden administration unexpectedly backed the effort.

But despite various attempts at a compromise, the initiative repeatedly stalled amid objections by the pharmaceutical industry and some wealthy nations where the largest drug companies are based. Now a furious last-minute bid is underway to pass the latest version of the proposal, but the latest version seems to satisfy no one. What is at stake? How will this affect access to medicines and pharmaceutical industry assets?


Here’s our attempt at explaining what’s going on, and what it means.

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