Biden called upon to support India, South Africa at WTO on COVID-19 vaccine
Washington, Mar 18: A group of American lawmakers has urged President Joe Biden to support the move by India and South Africa before the World Trade Organization for an emergency temporary waiver of some Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) rules to enable greater production and supply of COVID-19 vaccines, treatments, and diagnostic tests.
The move comes after India and South Africa, along with several other countries, urgently went to the WTO seeking a time-limited waiver of the TRIPS agreement. The previous Trump administration had opposed such a move.
At a news conference here on Wednesday, the lawmakers -- Rosa DeLauro, Jan Schakowsky, Earl Blumenauer, Lloyd Doggett, Adriano Espaillat, and Andy Levin -- urged President Biden to support the emergency temporary waiver at the WTO as requested by countries led by India and South Africa.
The lawmakers said more than 60 US representatives would collectively write to Biden to announce support for the TRIPS waiver proposed by India and South Africa at the WTO.
The temporary TRIPS waiver would allow countries and manufacturers to directly access and share technologies to produce vaccines and therapeutics without causing trade sanctions or international disputes, they said.
"The Biden administration has an obligation to reverse the damage done by the Trump administration and reestablish our nation's global reputation as a public health leader," said DeLauro.
"As we see every day, the COVID-19 pandemic knows no borders. Our globalised systems cannot recover if only parts of the world are vaccinated and have protection against the virus. We must make vaccines available everywhere if we are going to crush the virus anywhere, and we need to make public policy choices, both in the US and at the WTO, that put people first," DeLauro said.
"Congress has appropriated billions of dollars of emergency relief for the travel, tourism, and hospitality industries and is planning billions more. The faster we can bring this emergency to an end, the faster these industries can recover. President Biden's support for the TRIPS waiver is key to the end of the pandemic and the beginning of a strong global recovery."
Schakowsky said big pharma companies are adamantly opposed, claiming in their letter to President Biden that "intellectual property is the foundation for both the development and sharing of new technologies," not mentioning their own profits or the billions of dollars that taxpayers have contributed to their research and development.
"As a global community, we must come together and use every tool at our disposal to stop this pandemic. We have seen that WTO intellectual property rules and corporate greed have disastrous impacts for public health during past epidemics, and we need to ensure that this doesn't happen again," said Blumenauer.
"The Biden administration has already shown that we are in this together with our allies. They understand that a deadly pandemic does not stop at any one border. Working to ensure that trade rules do not stunt the developing world's access to vaccines, treatments, and diagnostic tests is the next step," he said.
"Mindful of COVID variants from Brazil and South Africa to stop this deadly virus, we need widespread immunisation everywhere around the globe, not just in the wealthiest countries," said Doggett. "While we have lacked sufficient vaccines in America, immunisation has been almost non-existent in poorer countries," he said.
"America has an obligation to support the global community with the tools and vaccine resources we developed to combat the COVID-19 pandemic," said Espaillat, adding that a global conundrum exists with countries having to wait months or even years to vaccinate their citizens - a delay that will only allow the virus to continue to mutate, spread, and kill more people.
"We simply cannot allow this to happen. During this time of crisis, rather than protecting wealthy pharmaceutical companies' bottom lines or intellectual property derived from our collective investments, we must remove all impediments to vaccine distribution, including maximising capacity worldwide to ensure every person who wants this vaccine has access as soon as possible regardless of economic background, race, or nationality," Espaillat said.
"The World Trade Organization (WTO) has the ability to accomplish this task, and I encourage the Biden administration to urge the WTO and partner member-nations to use the tools at its disposal to do so," he said.
"I desperately want a return to normalcy," said Levin. "But I want that normalcy to be sustainable! I want to be sure that this virus isn't going to keep spreading, keep mutating - potentially in a way that's resistant to the vaccines we're getting right now. I don't say this to fearmonger," he added.