GENEVA, Switzerland – The head of the World Trade Organization (WTO) told Reuters on Thursday, April 14, that negotiations on an intellectual property deal for COVID-19 vaccines were ongoing between the four parties, saying they were seeking to agree on the proposal’s final terms.
Since the draft compromise emerged in the media a month ago, pressure from civil society groups has been rising for the parties – the United States, the European Union, India, and South Africa – to walk away from the deal. Other public figures have also criticized it such as German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and former United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, saying it is too narrowly focused on vaccines.
“People are saying the text is now being rejected. It is not true,” Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala told Reuters by telephone. “They are still trying to iron out the last things. It’s just the last few tweaks,” she said, without elaborating.
Okonjo-Iweala, who took over the top job a year ago with a mandate to reinvigorate the 27-year-old institution, has been brokering the talks for the past few months in an effort to break a more than yearlong stalemate at the WTO.
India and South Africa, backed by dozens of other WTO members, had proposed a broad waiver of IP rights for COVID-19 drugs and vaccines, but failed to overcome opposition from members like Britain and Switzerland who argued that pharmaceutical research required such protections.
The compromise proposal that Okonjo-Iweala referred to, if finalized among the four negotiators, still needs to be presented to all 164 WTO members which each hold a veto.
No date has yet been fixed for that meeting.
Okonjo-Iweala said in the same interview that she plans to meet US Trade Representative Katherine Tai next week to discuss a ministerial trade conference at the WTO’s Geneva headquarters in June and to brief US Congress. – Rappler.com