Okonjo-Iweala Lauds Breakthrough on COVID-19 Vaccine Waiver

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By Adedapo Adesanya

The Director-General (DG) of the World Trade Organization (WTO), Mrs Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has welcomed the breakthrough among four WTO members on a waiver of the Trade-Related Intellectual Property agreement for the production of vaccines against the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is a major step forward and this compromise is the result of many long and difficult hours of negotiations. But we are not there yet. We have more work to do to ensure that we have the support of the entire WTO Membership,” the Director-General said.

The European Union (EU), India, South Africa and the United States had on Wednesday reportedly reached a consensus on key elements of a long-sought intellectual property waiver for COVID-19 vaccines.

While the agreement between the four parties is an essential element to any final deal, she cautioned that not all the details of the compromise have been ironed out and that internal domestic consultations within the four members are still ongoing.

Moreover, she stressed that work must commence immediately to broaden the discussions to include all 164 members of the WTO.

“In the WTO we decide by consensus, and this has not yet been achieved. My team and I have been working hard for the past three months and we are ready to roll up our sleeves again to work together with the TRIPS Council Chair Ambassador Lansana Gberie (Sierra Leone) to bring about a full agreement as quickly as possible. We are grateful to the four Members for the difficult work they have undertaken so far,” said Mrs Okonjo-Iweala.

Some elements of the consensus deal, including whether the length of any patent waivers would be three years or five years, still need to be finalized. It would apply only to patents for COVID-19 vaccines, which would be much more limited in scope than a broad proposed WTO waiver that had won backing from the United States.

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