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31 March 2022AmericasMuireann Bolger

COVID-19 IP waiver faces uncertain future

The future of the IP waiver related to the COVID-19 vaccine looks uncertain after the US Trade Representative confirmed no agreements had yet been reached between US, the EU, India and South Africa.

The representative Katherine Tai confirmed the lack of progress before US lawmakers on Wednesday, March 30.

Tai described the text of the proposal as a “concept” of a compromise that emerged from discussions facilitated by World Trade Organization (WTO) director-general Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala between the countries, in comments first reported by Reuters.

All 164 member countries of the WTO will need to see a finished version of this textual agreement, and have to unanimously vote in favour.

The Biden administration first declared support for an IP waiver for COVID-19 vaccines in May 2021.

Tai’s comments suggest more work was needed to finalise the text amid criticism that the proposed compromise does not go far enough to tackle the pandemic in developing countries.

According to media reports, Tai rejected suggestions that the waiver, if it materialises, would compromise US IP. “On your question of whether or not we work to give away American intellectual property, no, we don’t,” she insisted.

She did note that she was cognisant of the concerns expressed by some lawmakers that any waiver of IP rights at the WTO could work in favour of China.

But Tai insisted that working towards a solution of ending the pandemic was key to promoting economic growth.

This development comes as a number of civil society groups including Oxfam and Doctors without Borders issued a letter imploring US President Joe Biden to rebuff a potential WTO deal on COVID-19 vaccine IP rights.

The groups denounced the leaked text of the proposal as a mere "rehash" of a European Union position that failed to meet the waiver criteria that Biden backed last year.

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