The World Trade Organization (WTO) is starting discussions this week around a proposal to lift patents on Covid vaccines drawn up by four major manufacturing players.

But this text is already the subject of strong criticism from several NGOs as its scope is so limited.

“Allow diversification of vaccine production”

This Tuesday, the WTO released "the final document resulting from the informal process carried out with the Quadrilateral (South Africa, United States, India and European Union) to provide a response to the Covid-19 pandemic in the area of intellectual property”.

“Quad members have adopted an approach (…) aimed at identifying practical ways to clarify and simplify how governments can override patent rights, under certain conditions, in order to allow for a diversification of the production of “anti-Covid” vaccines, the WTO said.

According to a representative of the Geneva-based organization, the proposal would only apply to developing countries and only those representing less than 10% of annual global exports of Covid vaccines, which would de facto exclude China.

No more need for the consent of the patent owner

Under the terms of the document posted by the WTO, the developing countries concerned could produce and distribute anti-Covid vaccines without the consent of the patent holder.

According to the proposal published by the WTO, the flexibilities would be applied for a period of 3 or 5 years.

Countries will then have to decide whether to renew the authorization to waive patents.

Measures taken by countries to lift patents could also not be challenged by another country under the WTO dispute settlement mechanism.

NGOs disappointed

Discussions at the WTO on intellectual property and access to vaccines in poor countries were launched by India and South Africa in the course of 2020. No real progress has been made, these same two countries, to which are joined the United States and the EU, launched in December a small group to negotiate a compromise.

In mid-March, the WTO announced that a first compromise had been found by these four powers, a compromise containing too many restrictions according to the NGOs.

MSF regrets that it only covers patents and does not address other barriers to intellectual property, such as industrial secrets.

The WTO had hoped to reach an agreement on the subject at its ministerial meeting in mid-June, but its director general Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala recently claimed that the war in Ukraine was weighing on the negotiations.


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  • Covid-19

  • Covid vaccine

  • Coronavirus

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  • Vaccination

  • WTO