[Ip-health] Reuters: EU, South Africa hold "intense talks" to break vaccine patent impasse

Thiru Balasubramaniam thiru at keionline.org
Thu Oct 14 12:27:44 PDT 2021


EU, South Africa hold "intense talks" to break vaccine patent impasse

Thu, October 14, 2021, 7:47 PM

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union and South Africa are in "intense
talks" on how to increase the availability of vaccines to developing
countries, potentially breaking a year-long global deadlock on the topic,
an EU official said on Thursday.

The two have been on either side of the debate at the World Trade
Organization - South Africa championing a waiver of intellectual property
(IP) rights and the European Union resisting and saying there is sufficient
flexibility in existing rules.

The WTO wants to reach an agreement on global trade's response to the
pandemic at its ministerial conference in Geneva from Nov. 30 to Dec. 3.

European Commission official Antonio Fernandez-Martos told the trade
committee of the European Parliament in a debate on the WTO that the
European Union did not support a broad waiver of IP rights.

However, he said other WTO members were encouraging the EU to continue the
"very intense work" it is conducting with proponents of the IP waiver, and
notably South Africa.

"We're in intense talks with them around the idea of facilitating
compulsory licencing," he told the parliamentary committee, referring to a
system in which a government allows manufacture of a patented product
without the consent of the patent owner.

"I can tell you that we are ready to go beyond what we have put on the
table, because I think this is what can actually deliver increased
manufacturing and more equitable distribution of vaccines and
therapeutics," he continued.

WTO members held talks on the topic on Wednesday and Thursday, and a
Geneva-based trade official said there were encouraging signs that members
were engaging in the discussion more constructively after months of discord.

South Africa, the official said, suggested WTO members move beyond a binary
approach of choosing either the waiver or the EU proposal.

WTO director-general Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said on Thursday that talks on a
waiver were "stuck", but informal consultations were intensifying. She
expressed her belief that members could find a pragmatic compromise.

"It's too early to say whether middle ground can be found. It's not like
buying a carpet and you find a mid-point. Any agreement would require
conceptual shifts," one delegate said of the EU-South Africa talks.

(Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop, Emma Farge and Andrea Shalal; Editing by
Hugh Lawson)

Thiru Balasubramaniam
Geneva Representative
Knowledge Ecology International
41 22 791 6727
thiru at keionline.org

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