Written answers

Thursday, 3 June 2021

Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment

Covid-19 Pandemic

Photo of Pádraig O'SullivanPádraig O'Sullivan (Cork North Central, Fianna Fail)
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45. To ask the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if he will propose the waiving of intellectual property rights for Covid-19 vaccines at the World Trade Organization; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30226/21]

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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Universal and equitable access to safe, effective and affordable vaccines, diagnostics and treatments is crucial in the global fight against COVID-19.

International Trade is a competence of the EU under the Treaties. In exercising that competence at the World Trade Organisation or WTO, the European Commission engages with Member States, including Ireland, through a variety of Committee and Working Parties/Groups, including on intellectual property, or IP.

South Africa and India have amended their original proposal for a waiver by broadening the scope to cover all health products and technologies including diagnostics, therapeutics, vaccines, medical devices, personal protective equipment, their materials or components, and their methods and means of manufacture for the prevention, treatment or containment of COVID-19. The revised proposal also provides that the waiver shall be in force for at least 3 years and the WTO General Council shall determine the date of termination of the waiver.

The announcement by U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai regarding the U.S. Government’s support for a waiver of IP protections for COVID-19 vaccines, is significant. However, the statement acknowledged that reaching agreement on this at the WTO will take time given the consensus-based nature of the institution and the complexity of the issues involved.

The President of the EU Commission has responded to the U.S. announcement by indicating its readiness to discuss the U.S. proposal at the WTO. Ireland will engage with the European Commission and other member states on the EU position for the WTO discussions including discussions on how the U.S. announcement for a waiver on intellectual property protections for COVID-19 vaccines can help to resolve the crisis.

The EU continues to be committed to an open and comprehensive dialogue with all WTO members to explore how the multilateral rules-based trading system can best support universal and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines and treatments.

The EU believes that the WTO international agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (The TRIPS Agreement), allows countries the flexibility to respond to the concerns raised by proponents of the wavier. Specifically, the TRIPS Agreement allows compulsory licensing which is when a government permits an entity to produce the patented product or process without the consent of the patent owner.

The EU also believes that voluntary licensing and the dissemination of technology and know-how is the more effective way of quickly scaling up manufacturing globally. To this end, at the EU level, the Commission has set-up a Task Force for Industrial Scale-up of COVID-19 vaccine production which aims to support the ramp-up of production capacity and resolve supply chain bottlenecks.

The EU considers that the COVAX Facility, the international initiative to ensure global supply and access to COVID vaccines, is the mechanism that is best placed to ensure that high-income countries finance the vaccines and support the developing countries to secure their share of global supply.

The EU also considers that investment in global manufacturing capacity is key to supporting the global vaccination effort and the EU Commission is supporting a number of initiatives to achieve this, such as, the €1 billion Team Europe initiative on manufacturing and access to vaccines, medicines and health technologies in Africa.

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