The TRIPS COVID-19 Waiver

In October 2020, India and South Africa jointly proposed that WTO-enforced intellectual property rights obligations related to patents, copyright, industrial designs, and clinical data should be suspended for the duration of the pandemic. This elegant, temporary initiative, called the TRIPS Waiver propsal, would have made possible an equitable and truly international public health response to COVID-19 that the WTO intellectual property rights regime impedes.

Despite enjoying widespread support from over 100 WTO member governments, a few countries, led by the European Union, delayed negotiations on the waiver into the spring of 2022. Canada often claimed it did not oppose the waiver, but it did not support it either, which contributed to deadlock on the proposal in the halls of the WTO. A much limited version of the waiver covering vaccines only, and for only five years, was agreed by WTO members at a ministerial in June 2022.

Global civil society organizations including the CCPA are extremely disappointed with this outcome. But on a positive note, the debate about the waiver has drawn international attention to the barriers that intellectual property rights put before accesss to medicines and public health.

On June 16, 2022, nearly 300 CSOs issued a post-ministerial statement urging all governments to: 

1. Pledge not to use the WTO’s and other trade and investment agreements’ dispute mechanisms or other means in an attempt to stop or dissuade countries from producing, distributing or using medical technologies or from sharing information on how to do so regardless of WTO and free trade agreement IP rules;

2. Take every step necessary to save lives and end the pandemic, including by fully using the WTO’s existing, albeit limited, flexibilities;

3. Circumvent the WTO’s pharmaceutical monopoly rules when possible and outright defy those rules when needed.

Read the full statement here.

COVID-19 waiver resources (oldest to newest)