US trade representative yet to make recommendation on COVID-19 TRIPS waiver, says White House

Lalit K Jha
·3-min read

Washington, May 5 (PTI) US Trade Representative Katherine Tai has not yet made a recommendation to President Joe Biden on India and South Africa's proposal before the WTO to temporary waive some of the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) during the COVID-19 emergency, the White House has said.

The World Trade Organisation (WTO) during its general council meeting in Geneva on May 5 and 6 is scheduled to take up the proposal.

After regular agenda items, TRIPS waiver proposal is on top of the list of WTO's general council.

Several Democratic lawmakers have launched #FreeTheVaccine campaign in support of India and South Africa.

'We will have something to say about this once the WTO session gets underway. Obviously, Ambassador Tai would be making a recommendation to the president. That's not something that has happened at this point,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters at her daily news conference.

'While we're talking about the United States position, it's a WTO process, and what ultimately happens here will not be up to the United States alone,” Psaki said.

In a communique to the WTO on October 2, 2020, India and South Africa had called for TRIPS waiver of certain intellectual property provisions of COVID-19 vaccines so that people in developing countries get access to the life-saving vaccines and therapeutics as soon as possible.

'Given this present context of global emergency, it is important for WTO members to work together to ensure that intellectual property rights such as patents, industrial designs, copyright and protection of undisclosed information do not create barriers to the timely access to affordable medical products including vaccines and medicines or to scaling-up of research, development, manufacturing and supply of medical products essential to combat COVID-19,” India and South Africa had said in a joint communication.

India and South Africa are now supported by scores of countries, hundreds of non-profit organisations, advocacy groups and rights bodies.

The previous Trump administration had opposed this proposal. The Republican party, which is now in the opposition, has expressed its opposition to the proposal.

A group of GOP senators and Congressmen have written to Biden and Tai respectively.

US industry, pharma companies and eminent philanthropists like Bill Gates too are opposed to COVID-19 IP waiver.

However, more than 100 Democratic lawmakers have come out in support of the move by India and South Africa.

They have written letters to Biden on this issue and have been very vocal in the public domain as well.

The White House and the US trade representative for the past one month are having extensive consultations with various stakeholders over the issue.

Diplomats from India and South Africa have been coordinating to reach out to US policy makers and lawmakers in this regard.

On Monday, India's Ambassador to the US Taranjit Singh Sandhu had a virtual meeting with Kenyan Ambassador to the US, Lazarus O Amayo.

'Discussed issues relating to cooperation in affordable COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics to ensure global public health and strengthen the fight against the pandemic,' Sandhu had tweeted. PTI LKJ SNE