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Industrial Policy

IP waiver text fails to garner full support at first WTO meeting

Countries at the World Trade Organization began discussions Friday on a proposal for an intellectual property rights waiver related to coronavirus vaccines, with the text receiving a mixed and cautious response. 

The proposal emerged from discussions between the EU, U.S., India and South Africa and was circulated by WTO Director General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to the wider WTO membership earlier in the week, after previously being leaked in March. However, in statements to the TRIPS Council on Friday, South Africa, the EU and India kept their cards close to their chests, with no party taking full ownership of the text.

South Africa told countries it hoped the circulation of the document would imply that text-based negotiations would begin, according to a Geneva-based trade official. Meanwhile, India said it was committed to constructive engagement with members to reach a meaningful outcome.

The EU, which has publicly backed the proposal after it was first leaked, said the text offers the most promising path towards a meaningful outcome. The U.S. was less effusive, welcoming the director general’s role in putting the text forward to members, but saying that it was currently engaged in domestic consultations and was looking forward to finding areas of convergence. 

Outside the so-called quad, China indicated it was supportive of using the text as a basis for further discussions but rejected the inclusion of language that would exclude countries that exported more than 10 percent of the world’s COVID-19 exports in 2021. Rather, China said a more positive response would be for countries to voluntarily opt out of the waiver.

More widely, the proposal was met with requests for tweaks and some concern that it fails to address the importance of treatments and diagnostics. Countries are under pressure to move quickly as they have just five weeks to go before the ministerial conference in June.

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