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Demonstrators hold a rally to "Free the Vaccine," calling on the US to commit to a global coronavirus vaccination plan that includes sharing vaccine formulas with the world to help ensure that every nation has access to a vaccine, on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. on May 5, 2021. (Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)

Civil Society Groups Reject 'Legally Unsound' and 'Problematic' TRIPS Waiver Proposal

"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."

Jenna McGuire

Top civil society groups on Wednesday denounced a potential deal on Covid-19 vaccine intellectual property rights, calling on the World Trade Organization, the European Union, and U.S. President Joe Biden to reject the proposal.

"Your goal of saving lives worldwide from the ravages of Covid-19 will not be furthered by accepting this text."

"Your goal of saving lives worldwide from the ravages of Covid-19 will not be furthered by accepting this text, which would in practice be worse than the status quo with respect to global access to lifesaving vaccines and treatments," said the groups.

The rights groups say the text of a deal to waive parts of the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement—leaked to the press in mid-March—deviates from India and South Africa's original proposal at the World Trade Organization (WTO) and would impose new harmful conditions.

In two separate letters, which included signatories Doctors without Borders, Oxfam America, and Amnesty International, the human rights groups condemned the new proposal as "the lowest-common denominator" and "legally unsound" while criticizing its failure to include Covid-19 tests and treatments, while imposing severe limits on what countries it applies to.

"This text is just another rehash of the E.U.'s efforts to thwart the very concept of a waiver, despite support for it by almost all other WTO nations," the U.S. letter notes. "The text restates existing WTO rules that have proved unsuitable for boosting Covid-19 supplies as if they were new, and then imposes burdensome new conditions on nations seeking to use the existing flexibilities."

In another letter addressed to the European commissioners, member state ambassadors to the WTO, and members of the European Parliament, the organizations said:

The text under consideration by some WTO members contains problematic and contradictory elements and remains largely insufficient as an effective pandemic response. Further negotiations are needed to ensure an effective outcome in a multilateral manner, responding to the needs expressed by many WTO members and civil society.

Doctors Without Borders said the new proposal "should not be equated to the original TRIPS waiver proposal put forth by South Africa and India, and supported by over 100 countries," and it "does not provide a meaningful solution to IP monopolies on access to Covid-19 medical tools, to boost global production and supply to tackle access inequities."

The groups called on Biden to prioritize U.S. efforts to negotiate and implement an "actual waiver" that boosts Covid-19 vaccine production, treatments, and testing.

"We understand that the U.S. government continues to oppose removal of WTO IP barriers to boost access to lifesaving treatments and tests for the rest of the world," the letter reads. "This is not only unconscionable, it can severely undermine nations' ability to manage and contain future outbreaks, leaving the world vulnerable to the continual rise of new Covid-19 variants."

The letter notes that South African and Indian academic and civil leaders consider adoption of this text to "be worse than the already problematic WTO status quo" and have not agreed to the leaked proposal.

"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 U.S. letter states. "Thus, absent major improvements, we urge you to reject this text."

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