(New York) – A new leaked text reveals that negotiations between the European Union, United States, South Africaand India at the World Trade Organization (WTO) on a waiver of intellectual property for Covid-19-related products requires more work to achieve a meaningful result, Human Rights Watch said today.
The leaked text narrows the scope and potential impact of proposals first introduced by India and South Africa in October 2020. It excludes Covid-19 tests and treatments, excludes certain countries from potential avenues for expanding access to health products, and does not address barriers to trade secrets.
“The leaked text shows that more efforts are needed to ensure that the WTO negotiations actually end up extending access to life-saving medicines, test kits and vaccines,” he said. Margaret Wurth, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The pandemic is not over yet, and gross inequality in access to Covid-19 vaccines and treatments shows that a comprehensive exemption is as important as ever.”
At least six million lives have already been lost. Other things discretion pin it triple or even quadruple that number. The leak comes at a time when increases in Covid-19 cases are hitting South Korea, Hong Kong, Western Europe and New Zealand.
While the original proposal from India and South Africa was for a global exemption, the new leaked text suggests that only “developing countries” that exported less than 10 percent of global vaccine supplies by 2021 will be able to benefit from the exemption and potentially produce more. Pursuant to these provisions, China, which exported over a third of the global Covid-19 vaccine supply by 2021, would be left out. Countries like Brazil and South Koreawhich have declared that they are no longer “developing countries” can also be excluded.
Until recently, the European Commission, which represented the EU in WTO negotiations, was consistent against the idea of a dispensation and blocked it from moving forward. Efforts to end the stalemate are useful, but should not come at the expense of a meaningful waiver of saving lives and protecting rights, Human Rights Watch said.
The text circulated will initially only cover vaccines, giving members six months to decide whether to extend the agreement to Covid-19 tests and treatments, reflecting the US government’s stated preference to “start” with vaccines. Last May, the US government announced support for waiver of intellectual property, but only for Covid-19 vaccines – and not tests or treatments. Widespread testing is crucial to monitor new outbreaks and variants, and the world cannot wait another six months for greater access to life-saving treatments. Experts have noted growing globally inequalities in access to antiviral pills.
The text is circulated does not waive rules on trade secrets, crucial to speeding up the path to vaccine production, Human Rights Watch said. India and South Africa, the sponsors of the original proposal from October 2020, specifically understood the need to give up trade secretswhich is crucial to help new manufacturers produce more vaccines if vaccine developers do not cooperate through technology transfers.
It also fails to simplify the process of compulsory licensing to manufacture a patented product or process, and even introduces new obstacles and procedures. For example, the text requires governments to issue compulsory licenses for Covid-19 products to list all patents and send information to patent holders, making it more cumbersome and slowing down a process that requires simplicity and urgency to save the maximum number of lives.
The European Parliament has repeatedly expressed support for a more comprehensive derogation and should now use its voice to demand that the Commission expand the scope of the common ground they have found so far, Human Rights Watch said. All 62 countries that supported India and South Africa’s proposals, most of which were not part of the backroom negotiations to develop this leaked text, can also commit to strengthening the text.
“The good news is that a better deal is possible and the details are not yet final,” Wurth said. “European governments should put pressure on the Commission, which has negotiated on their behalf, to ensure a result that helps achieve fair and global access to Covid-19 tests, treatments and vaccines.”