WASHINGTON (Reuters) -There has been no agreement on the terms of a COVID-19 vaccine intellectual property deal among four key World Trade Organization members, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai said, amid growing questions about the effort’s future.
Tai told U.S. lawmakers on Wednesday that “there has been no agreement” related to a proposed IP waiver text that was leaked to media earlier this month, as civil society groups urged President Joe Biden to reject the deal.
Tai called the text the “concept” of a compromise developed during discussions facilitated by WTO Director General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala between the United States, the European Union, India and South Africa.
Her spokesperson, Adam Hodge, said Washington was still consulting on the issue, but the compromise worked out during the informal WTO-led discussions “offers the most promising path toward achieving a concrete and meaningful outcome.”
A text of the proposed compromise seen by Reuters earlier this month sought to waive IP rights to COVID-19 vaccines and supplies but it needed to be finalized and then presented to and accepted by the WTO’s 164 member countries.
Tai’s comments suggest that more work was needed to finalize the text amid some criticisms that the proposed compromise does not go far enough beyond a mandatory vaccine licensing regime.
She reassured members of the House Ways and Means Committee that the effort to increase vaccine access to developing countries aimed to preserve U.S. intellectual property rights. Biden first declared his support for an IP waiver for COVID-19 vaccines in May 2021, drawing sharp criticism from industry.
Asked about the issue during a hearing of the House Ways and Means Committee, Tai said, “On your question of whether or not we are working to give away American IP, no, we are not.”
She said she hears “loud and clear” the concerns voiced by some lawmakers that any waiver of IP rights at the WTO could benefit China, but also noted that ending the pandemic was critical to ensuring global economic growth.
In a letter https://tradejusticeedfundorg.files.wordpress.com/2022/03/potus_leakedwtoproposalltr_033022.pdf, Doctors without Borders, Oxfam America, Amnesty International and other top civil society groups said the proposal would impose new conditions limiting the existing WTO rules that now allow countries to issue compulsory licenses for patented products.
“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 and David Lawder; Editing by Andrea Ricci and Lisa Shumaker)