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Groups urge Biden to reject potential WTO ‘concept’ on COVID-19 vaccine barriers – Metro US

Groups urge Biden to reject potential WTO ‘concept’ on COVID-19 vaccine barriers

FILE PHOTO: People are inoculated against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
FILE PHOTO: People are inoculated against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at a Walgreens store in Chicago

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Doctors without Borders, Oxfam America, Amnesty International and other top civil society groups on Wednesday urged U.S. President Joe Biden to reject a potential deal on COVID-19 vaccine intellectual property rights at the World Trade Organization.

In a letter, the groups called the proposal a “rehash” of a European Union position that fell far short of the rights waiver Biden backed in May 2021 to speed vaccines to developing countries.

“This leaked text … would impose new conditions limiting the existing WTO rules that now allow countries to issue compulsory licenses for patented products,” the organizations said.

They noted that India and South Africa, which had worked on the compromise language with the United States and the European Union, had not yet formally endorsed the “concept.”

U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai on Wednesday told U.S. lawmakers there was no agreement on what she called the “concept” of a compromise developed during discussions facilitated by WTO Director General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

A text of the proposed compromise seen by Reuters earlier this month sought to waive IP rights to COVID-19 vaccines and supplies. It needs to be finalized and accepted by the WTO’s 164 member countries.

Some critics argue that the potential deal does not go far enough beyond a mandatory vaccine licensing regime, while others see it harming the IP rights of big companies.

The groups urged Biden to redouble U.S. efforts to negotiate an “actual waiver” to boost COVID-19 vaccine production.

European civil society groups have voiced similar concerns in a separate letter to EU officials.

The U.S. groups said the potential deal would add burdensome conditions to WTO rules by requiring identification of all relevant patents, data that was not readily available.

“If adopted as-is, this text, while continuing to privilege Big Pharma monopolies and profits, would continue to deny access to lifesaving COVID-19 vaccines and treatments to millions around the world,” the groups wrote.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Richard Chang)

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