Member states met again this week to discuss a proposal from South Africa and India for the World Trade Organization (WTO) to suspend countries’ obligations to protect intellectual property related to COVID-19. The Engaging America’s Global Leadership (EAGL) Coalition, a group of manufacturers that support robust U.S. leadership in multilateral organizations, believes this initiative is extreme and unnecessary.
If enacted, this proposal would set back efforts to end the pandemic and undermine the innovation that has proven so critical as governments work to respond to the pandemic. Intellectual property rights have made it easier for the private sector, academia, and research institutions to share technology and knowhow. The dozens of new vaccines and therapeutics in the pipeline show that this system is working. As new products are approved, intellectual property protections will further incentivize the rapid manufacturing and delivery of safe and affordable vaccines.
While claiming to act in the interests of public health, South Africa and India are using the pandemic to advance their longstanding trade goals of undermining intellectual property rights. Moreover, interventions by the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) in favor of this controversial proposal overstep that organization’s mandate in ways that undermine WTO processes and discussions. Adoption of this proposal would do lasting damage, depriving the world of tools needed to fight future pandemics and serious disease.
EAGL calls on the United States government to defend vital intellectual property rights at the WTO and in countries around the world. Effective U.S. leadership is needed to sustain the innovation ecosystem that has led to countless new discoveries.