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WTO chief calls for urgency in vaccine access
By TII News Service
May 06, 2021 , Washington


THE World Trade Organisation (WTO) on Wednesday said its members must respond urgently to the need for a multilateral solution to ensure equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, calling it a "moral and economic issue of our time."

Addressing the General Council of the WTO where the issue of Intellectual Property (IP) waiver and access to essential COVID-19 medicines and medical equipment was discussed, Director-General Ms Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala stressed that how the organisation handles the matter is "critical."

"We need to have a sense of urgency on how we approach this issue of response to COVID-19 because the world is watching," she said. "Vaccine policy is economic policy because the global economic recovery cannot be sustained unless we find a way to get equitable access to vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics."

WTO members agreed to allow the Council for Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) to continue consideration of the waiver first put forward by India and South Africa on IP obligations regarding COVID-19 vaccines, therapeutics and medicines.

Over 40 delegations took the floor at the General Council under this agenda item with members expressing different views. Supporters said the current challenges posed by the pandemic can only be effectively addressed by waiving certain TRIPS obligations. Other delegations remained unconvinced about the necessity for a waiver at the international level, with some members arguing that a waiver might undermine ongoing collaborative efforts.

Ms Okonjo-Iweala welcomed the news that the proponents of the TRIPS waiver were planning to submit a revised text in a bid to reconcile positions. They requested the chair of the TRIPS Council to consider holding an open meeting open in the second half of May to discuss the revisions before the next formal meeting scheduled for early June.

"I am firmly convinced that once we can sit down with an actual text in front of us, we shall find a pragmatic way forward, acceptable to all sides that allow the kinds of answers that our developing country members are looking at with respect to vaccines, whilst at the same time looking at research and innovation and how to protect them," said the DG.

The TRIPS waiver proposal was initially submitted by South Africa and India and has since been co-sponsored by Kenya, Eswatini, Mozambique, Pakistan, Bolivia, Venezuela, Mongolia, Zimbabwe, Egypt, the African Group, the Least Developed Countries (LDC) Group, and most recently Maldives, Fiji and Namibia — a total of 60 WTO members.

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