As countries prepare for the November 30 to December 3, 2021 World Trade Organisation ministerial conference, Kenya has joined other members in expressing disappointment over stalled discussions to waive intellectual property rights on Covid-19 vaccines and drugs.
The waiver was first proposed in October 2020 by India and South Africa, and is expected to cover several aspects of the WTO’s Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).
The latest WTO meeting of the Council for TRIPS on October 13 and 14 failed to unlock the impasse, and a second one is expected to be held on November 22 and 23 before the ministerial conference.
Kenya, Eswatini, and Tanzania are among countries co-sponsoring the WTO IP waiver, supported by more than 100 countries, including the US, saying it will save lives by allowing developing countries to produce Covid vaccines.
Only a handful of WTO members including the EU, UK, Norway and Switzerland are still opposed to the waiver.
“We are still negotiating. The discussions are done in groups. And these groups have difficulties having meetings. It is disappointing that we have not made that progress,” said Johnson Weru, Kenya’s principal secretary at the State Department for Trade and Enterprise, Ministry of Industrialisation, Trade and Enterprise Development.
Mr Weru faulted rich countries, saying that they are under obligation to ensure vaccines are supplied to all.
“The challenge is not the pharmaceutical companies of those countries still opposed to the waiver, but the value chains. Producing is one thing, and taking the vaccines to the population is another,” he said.
Although many low- and middle-income countries are still struggling to reach WHO recommended vaccination quotas, access to vaccines remains low. The proposed TRIPS waiver, if adopted, will provide countries with a way to remove legal risks and allow additional manufacturers to scale-up supply of Covid-19 vaccines, medicines, diagnostics, and other health technologies all over the world.
The chair of the TRIPS Council, Dagfinn Sørli of Norway, said he is engaging members to arrive at a consensus before the conference.
“The TRIPS Council is not yet in a position to agree on a concrete conclusion,” he said.