Biden undecided on COVID-related TRIPS waiver, as Republican lawmakers oppose India's proposal at WTO

12 Republican lawmakers write a seven-page letter to U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai on the issue

May 05, 2021 05:38 am | Updated 05:38 am IST - Washington

U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai. File photo

U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai. File photo

U.S. President Joe Biden said on Tuesday that he had not made a decision on whether the U.S. would support an Indian and South African initiative at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to waive Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) to facilitate the production of COVID-19 related vaccines and therapeutics around the world.

“Well, we’re going to decide that as we go along, I haven’t made that decision yet,” Mr. Biden said on Tuesday afternoon at the White House, after he delivered remarks on the U.S.’s vaccination campaign. His administration would move as quickly as possible to get as many doses of Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines to export to the rest of the world, Mr Biden said. The U.S. government has already ordered 100 million additional doses of these vaccines through July 31.

A group of nine Democratic senators and Bernie Sanders (an independent) had called on Mr Biden last month to support a temporary IP waiver. U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Katherine Tai had discussed the issue with the U.S. heads of vaccine makers Pfizer and AstraZeneca last week.

On Tuesday however, a group of 12 Republican lawmakers wrote a seven page letter to Ms. Tai on asking her not to support the IP waiver initiative calling it “extraordinarily broad and unnecessary” to giving the maximum number of people possible access to COVID-19 vaccines and treatments and that it would undermine the “record-breaking rapid innovation” of vaccines.

“The justification for the waiver rests on an incorrect assumption that IP rights are a significant bottleneck to the widespread availability of COVID-19 vaccines and treatments.” The letter says that COVID-19 treatment access can be expanded globally without weakening IP, and weaking IP would hamper American innovation and technology.

“This danger is particularly acute considering that many of the crucial technological advances made by American businesses and institutions in the fight against COVID-19 were made on the backs of billions of dollars of investment by American companies as well as billions more in American taxpayer money,” the letter says.

The letter cites logistical challenges like lack of cold storage and syringes as well as regulatory hurdles in developing countries as bottlenecks to access. The lawmakers suggest that the focus be on COVAX and Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator , i.e., existing international efforts to improve vaccine access.

The lawmakers also note that IP rights have been “successfully licensed” while “maintaining IP protections”, citing, among other examples, Serum Institute of India’s arrangements with AstraZeneca and Novavax and pharmaceutical company Gilead’s licenses to Indian manufacturers of anti-viral remdesivir.

The signatories to the letter were Jim Jordan, Darrell Issa, Steve Chabot , Louie Gohmert, Matt Gaetz, Mike Johnson, Tom Tiffany, Thomas Massie, Dan Bishop, Michelle Fischbach, Scott Fitzgerald and Cliff Bentz. Mr Chabot, who is on the IP Sub-Committee is also Co-Chair of the House India Caucus and had recently signed his name to a letter to Mr Biden appreciating the assistance to India so far, and calling for more to be done.

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