COVID-19: Okonjo-Iweala Welcomes US’ Willingness to Wave TRIPS


Dike Onwuamaeze

The Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has welcomed the willingness of the United States of America to engage with proponents of a temporary waiver of the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) to help in combatting the COVID-19 pandemic.

The TRIPS Agreement is an international legal agreement between all the member nations of the WTO that established minimum standards for the regulation by national governments of different forms of intellectual property (IP) as applied to nationals of other WTO member nations.

The agreement was elaborated in 2001 to state that, “TRIPS can and should be interpreted in light of the goal ‘to promote access to medicines for all.’”

However, Okonjo-Iweala, in a statement yesterday welcomed the United States’ Trade Representative, Ms. Katherine Tai’s willingness to engage with proponents of a temporary waiver of the TRIPS Agreement.

She said: “As I told the general council yesterday, we need to respond urgently to COVID-19 because the world is watching and people are dying. I am pleased that the proponents are preparing a revision to their proposal and I urge them to put this on the table as soon as possible so that text-based negotiations can commence.

“It is only by sitting down together that we will find a pragmatic way forward — acceptable to all members — which enhances developing countries’ access to vaccines while protecting and sustaining the research and innovation so vital to the production of these life-saving vaccines.”

The WTO also disclosed during the WTO General Council press briefing, which was held virtually, that ensuring access to, “essential medical goods during a pandemic, securing a global deal on prohibiting harmful fisheries subsidies and addressing the concerns of ‘graduating’ least developed countries were among the topics discussed at the 5-6 May meeting of the WTO’s General Council,” adding that “members also exchanged views on the WTO’s continuing work on electronic commerce and the legal status of the ongoing ‘joint initiatives’ talks.”

The WTO said that following discussions on the issue of intellectual property and access to essential COVID-19 medicines and medical equipment, its members turned to a proposed General Council Declaration on, “Trade and Health: COVID-19 and Beyond,” which called for “concrete actions to facilitate trade in essential medical goods and to enhance the capacity of the trading system to deal with a public health emergency.”