Whilst more than 100 countries – from South Africa via Spain to the USA – are urging to waive patent rights on know-how and technologies to combat Covid-19 within the scope of the WTO, the EU is still hampering an agreement. The European Parliament in contrast sent an important signal on 9 June 2021: in the adopted resolution, it once again urges to waiver trade-related intellectual property rights for the duration of the pandemic.
Unfortunately, the EU is still one of the few WTO parties that have been blocking the waiver of trade-related intellectual property rights for the prevention, containment and treatment of Covid-19 (the so-called “TRIPS-Waiver”) for months. However, in AK’s opinion and in view of the serious health, social and economic crisis, there should not be any obstacles regarding the use of global potentials to independently produce Covid-19 relevant vaccines, diagnostics and medical products. Sharing know-how and technologies to end the pandemic is, not least in view of the globally shared danger of Coronavirus mutations, in our very own interest. There is no doubt for the Austrian Chamber of Labour and ÖGB that in respect of fighting the Covid-19 pandemic and the serious global vaccine inequality no further delays should be allowed. A solidary response by the EU is needed.
Current figures show how severe global vaccine inequality really is: by June 2021, about 1,6 billion vaccine doses had been administered, of which the majority were received in vaccine-producing countries. Just 0,3 % of globally administered vaccine doses were given in the 29 poorest countries, even though about 9 % of the global population live in these countries. The EU so far has distributed over 260 million vaccines to their Member States. Apart from that, 226 million were exported to third countries; however, only about 10 % of these went to the globally least developed countries.
Whilst so far, the European Commission has hardly moved in respect of waiving the patents on Covid-19, the European Parliament sent an important signal on 9 June 2021 and adopted a resolution on the TRIPS-Waiver. In this resolution, the waiver of trade-related intellectual property rights for Covid-19 relevant vaccines, medical products and health technologies has been once again supported. In addition, the European Parliament, in particular in the direction of the European Commission, which is the EU chief negotiator, urges to support proactive and constructive negotiations on a temporary waiver of the WTO TRIPS agreement to improve global access to affordable medical products in connection with Covid-19. Apart from that, it explicitly urges the Commission to put more pressure on pharma companies to share technologies and expertise, in particular with developing countries. The resolution was adopted with 355 Yes-votes to 263 No-votes.
The pressure on the European Commission to distance itself from its current delaying tactic in the WTO has not only substantially increased internationally but also within the EU. Hence, the voices in EU Member States, such as Spain, Italy and Greece up to French President Emmanuel Macron to support the TRIPS-Waiver are getting increasingly louder, making the European Commission look increasingly isolated. In addition, there is an growing critical media audience regarding the failure to tackle the global vaccination gap.