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The European Union recently submitted a plan to the World Trade Organization stating that this plan will more effectively help in broadening the supply of COVID-19 vaccines than the intellectual property (IP) rights waiver backed by the United States. India, South Africa, and dozens of other developing countries are demanding to address the issue of waiving off the IP as they believe that if waiving is not done, it would be very difficult for them to access vaccines and other COVID-19 treatments.
An unexpected extended hand of support by the U.S. in May for a waiver put pressure on remaining opponents including the European Union and Switzerland that are known as the home of drugmakers. The European Commission is responsible for overseeing trade policy for the 27 EU nations. It stated, “We have submitted an alternative, focused on limits on export restrictions and making use of flexibility in existing WTO rules.” However, the World Trade Organization will next be able to discuss the plan with member countries at upcoming meetings. Moreover, the EU presented a three-part plan contending that a waiver would not help in boosting vaccine production.
In First Part, it talks about export restrictions and they should be kept to a minimum.
In Second Part, the EU would encourage vaccine developers from its side to enter into deals with producers in different developing countries all over the world and further, pledge to increase their supplies to vulnerable nations, just as some already have done.
And in the Third Part, the EU plan highlights the existing WTO rules which allow countries to grant licenses to manufacturers that too in cases where the patent-holder doesn’t consent. However, it doesn’t take away the holder’s right to receive compensation.
A Commission official said, “The proposal aimed to remove ambiguity, clarifying that the pandemic means compulsory licenses can be granted without having to negotiate with patent-holders first. Compensation can be kept to a minimum to ensure affordable prices.” Medical humanitarian group Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said, “The EU proposal is pushing only voluntary action by companies rather than the concrete legal solution a waiver will offer.” However, it further added that the existing compulsory licensing already had critical shortcomings and the plan presented by the EU was limited to vaccines. Let’s see how things work will work out at the upcoming meetings of the WHO.