[Ip-health] WTO DG to Meet with Big Pharma

Sangeeta Shashikant sangeeta at twnetwork.org
Fri Mar 5 03:52:29 PST 2021

WTO DG to Meet with Big Pharma
>From D Ravi Kanth

The World Trade Organization’s Director-General Ms Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is apparently convening a closed-door meeting with major pharmaceutical manufacturers, including pharma companies from developing countries, during 7-9 March  to explore voluntary licensing arrangements for scaling-up COVID-19 diagnostics, therapeutics, and vaccines, said people familiar with the development said.

The meeting could involve representatives from  Big Pharma such as Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson&Jhonson, AstraZeneca, as well as leading vaccine manufacturers from India, South Africa and Brazil among others debating on how arrive at license arrangements under Chatham House rules where things discussed during the meeting can’t be attributed to the participants, said several persons familiar with the development.

When contacted about the meeting, the DG's office did not respond to requests from this writer.

The DG’s alleged rush into closed-door meetings with pharma manufacturers has apparently caused alarm among several countries,des[ote her statements at the WTO. 

Third Way.

Ms Ngozi has already been canvassing about the meeting as part of a “Third Way” in her recent statement at the GC and in newspapers. For example, in her statement on 15 February, the DG said “WTO members have a further responsibility “to reject vaccine nationalism and protectionism.” 

However, she remained silent on the TRIPS waiver for suspending IPR (intellectual property rules) concerning copyrights, industrial designs, patents, and undisclosed information for ramping up global production of COVID-19 vaccines in her acceptance speech at the special GC meeting on 15 February. That waiver is sponsored by 57 countries with additional support from 61 member countries.

On 26 February, around 400 civil society groups and US Congress persons strongly endorsed the waiver to scale-up vaccines in developing countries so to ensure that the Cov-Sars-2 virus is contained rapidly across the world.

But, the DG chose to opt for a ““ "third way" to broaden access through facilitating technology transfer within the framework of multilateral rules, so as to encourage research and innovation while at the same time allowing licensing agreements that help scale up manufacturing of medical products.”

In her statement early this week, the DG acknowledged the TRIPS waiver for the first time, saying that “we have a demand for a TRIPS waiver by a growing number of developing countries and the dialogue is intensifying.”

“Whilst this is happening, I propose that we “walk and chew gum” by also focusing on the immediate needs of dozens of poor countries that have yet to vaccinate a single person,” she said, suggesting that “we (members) must focus on working with companies to open up and license more viable manufacturing sites now in emerging markets and developing countries. 

We must get them to work with us on know-how and technology transfer now.”

She announced in that GC statement on March 1 that “there will soon be a world manufacturing convention where we can seek to build this partnership. I also hope we can initiate a dialogue and information exchange between us and representatives of manufacturers associations from developing and developed countries. Excellencies, this should happen soon so we can save lives. As I said at the beginning, this will be an interim solution whilst we continue the dialogue on the TRIPS waiver.”

Adverse implications

Nevertheless, her statements raised more questions than resolving the TRIPS waiver, said a person who asked not to be quoted.  “I guess it is preservation of status-quo and business as usual because these companies did not want to be subjected to the principle of transparency,” the person said.

More disturbingly, “even if there is voluntary licensing the terms of the contract are not published, as “they have price control, they have territorial control where the vaccine ought to be distributed, and they have other negative clauses,” the person said, arguing that in the absence of information and transparency these companies can play havoc.


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