An Unnecessary Proposal: A WTO Waiver of Intellectual Property Rights for COVID-19 Vaccines
5 Pages Posted: 2 Feb 2021
Date Written: December 16, 2020
In a sign of their increasing frustration with global efforts to ensure that all people everywhere will have access to COVID-19 vaccines, several developing countries have asked other members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) to join them in a sweeping waiver of the intellectual property (IP) rights relating to those vaccines. Their waiver request raises anew the recurring debate within the WTO over the right balance between the protection of IP rights and access in poorer countries to urgently needed medicines. But the last thing the WTO needs is another debate over perceived trade obstacles to public health.
Unless WTO members reach a consensus, the multilateral trading system may be further complicated by a delay like that in resolving the two‐decades‐old dispute between developed and developing countries over the compulsory licensing and generic distribution of HIV/AIDS drugs. A new and contentious “North‐South” political struggle definitely would not be in the interest of the developed countries, the developing countries, the pharmaceutical companies, or the WTO. Certainly it would not be in the interest of the victims and potential victims of COVID-19.
Keywords: WTO, World Trade Organization, COVID-19, coronavirus, rona, pharmaceutical wars, vaccine property rights
JEL Classification: F10, F13, F18, F19, I10, I11, I18, I19
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation