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WTO meeting on COVID vaccine rights waiver went 'very well' -chair

By Emma Farge
FILE PHOTO: The word "COVID-19" is reflected in a drop on a syringe needle in this illustration taken November 9, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/

The first World Trade Organization meeting to discuss a draft agreement to temporarily waive intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines went "very well", its chair said on Friday, although some members voiced reservations.

The WTO's 164 members on Friday discussed the "outcome document" that stems from months of negotiations between the main parties - the United States, the European Union, India and South Africa - in an effort to break an 18-month deadlock over the issue.

"It went very well and here's why I say that. No member rejected the outcome as completely unacceptable," Ambassador Lansana Gberie from Sierra Leone, who chairs the council tasked with finding an agreement on the waiver, told Reuters after the closed-door meeting.

"Most said this could be developed into a negotiating text and that's the trajectory we have to follow."

However, two Geneva trade sources said after the meeting that some delegations had said the proposal fell short since it was too narrowly focused on vaccines, echoing criticism from some civil society groups.

And while China voiced broad support for the document it also raised an objection to some of the wording that appeared to exclude it from the waiver on the basis of its global share of vaccine exports, the two sources said.

China's statement sent by its WTO mission in Geneva called the wording "an unreasonable and arbitrary criterion".

The waiver idea, proposed by India and South Africa in October 2020, is supported by the majority of members of the global trade body.

But some wealthy countries including Britain and Switzerland have in the past raised objections on grounds that it could harm pharmaceutical research.

WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who has been involved in brokering the talks and wants a deal by the June ministerial conference, says an agreement would be "hugely important".

The new draft deal, which has unresolved areas, must pass by consensus and any member of the organisation has the right to a veto.

One delegate described Friday's meeting as the moment the deal would "float or sink".

Privately, some delegates have said a lack of public support for the deal by the main negotiating parties has sapped confidence among other members.

(Reporting by Emma Farge; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and Edmund Blair)

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Dive Deeper:
Main negotiators reach 'outcome' on COVID vaccine IP waiver
The four main parties to negotiations on an intellectual property waiver for COVID-19 vaccines have prepared an "outcome document" for…
Hopes rise for Covid vaccine patent waiver after key countries agree on proposal
The proposal, if passed by the full council, could allow other countries to make vaccines without paying pharmaceutical companies
Action urged on export ban
Thailand is joining 53 member countries to propose the World Trade Organization (WTO) address export bans on food and agricultural…
Ministry to host Apec trade talks
The Commerce Ministry is set to host Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) trade ministers in Bangkok, with renewed talks on the…
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Affordable Covid drugs kept out of reach by sluggish WTO
Analysis: EU and US pharma giants’ intellectual property rights stop poorer countries accessing vital medication – despite WTO claims of…
India has no plans to join the WTO govt procurement agreement
It already figures in the free trade agreement signed with the UAE, and while this may act as a template…
Get all your news in one place