US encouraged by progress toward COVID-19 vaccine patent waiver

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Progress is being made towards a deal on an intellectual property waiver for COVID-19 vaccines at the World Trade Organization (WTO), US Trade Representative Katherine Tai said on Saturday.

Tai pointed to a revised proposal from the original proponents of the waiver, led by India and South Africa, as well as principles the European Union has come up with to guide how they would like to negotiate the issues.

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In a surprise shift in May, the United States moved to supporting a patent waiver, piling pressure on opponents like the European Union and Switzerland, where many drugmakers are based.

“We’re actually really encouraged to see more WTO members come forth with proposals on what they can support at the WTO with respect to intellectual property rules at the WTO and how they apply to the COVID vaccines,” Tai told reporters ahead of a meeting of trade ministers in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum.

Backers of a patent waiver for COVID vaccines are looking to boost vaccine production and delivery to poorer countries that are battling a surge in COVID-19 infections and struggling to access vaccine supplies as well as diagnostics, therapeutics and medical devices.

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“We are encouraging more WTO members to come forward in this process, and we are carefully reviewing proposals, as I’m sure all WTO members are right now, and looking forward to moving the WTO’s membership to text-based negotiations,” Tai said on an online call hosted by New Zealand.

The latest draft from proponents of the waiver sets a time span for a waiver of at least three years and would allow the WTO’s 164 members to determine when it ends.

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