The United States now supports waiving protections on the intellectual property behind COVID-19 vaccines as a way of quickening the end of the global pandemic, the U.S. trade representative said Wednesday.
Amid ongoing international pressure for countries to negotiate shared intellectual property rights in the face of the pandemic, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai said the Biden administration supported moving in that direction.
“The Administration strongly believes in intellectual property protections, but in service of ending this pandemic, supports the waiver of those protections for COVID-19 vaccines,” Tai said in a statement.
“We will actively participate in text-based negotiations at the World Trade Organization (WTO) needed to make that happen,” she added. “Those negotiations will take time given the consensus-based nature of the institution and the complexity of the issues involved.”
Tai’s statement represents a shift in the border-spanning effort to open up vaccine information.
South Africa and India, the latter of which is currently experiencing a devastating spike in infections, have for months called on the WTO to suspend intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines, but wealthy nations and the pharmaceutical industry have resisted that effort.
The United States, United Kingdom, European Union and others have blocked the proposal to waive an international intellectual property agreement in the past.
Last month, Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC), ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s panel on intellectual property, wrote to Tai that “The waiver’s main concrete impact would therefore be to legitimate the transfer of American technologies to foreign competitors.”
Biden, on the campaign trail, promised the activist Ady Barkan that he would share vaccine information with other countries if elected president — a commitment that Barkan pressed Biden on in a video Saturday.
President Biden made an unequivocal promise to the American people.
Will he keep his word? We find out this week. pic.twitter.com/UMSDYN6Oei
— Ady Barkan (@AdyBarkan) May 2, 2021
“@potus did the right thing and has dropped US opposition to the #TRIPSWaiver,” Barkan wrote of the breaking news Wednesday, referring to the WTO agreement known as Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights.
“Now the US must do everything possible to ensure the negotiations are swift and successful.”
A WTO meeting Wednesday prior to Tai’s statement was “far more constructive, pragmatic, it was less emotive and less finger-pointing” than previous meetings on the issue, WTO spokesman Keith Rockwell told reporters afterward.
Rockwell noted that India and South Africa are expected to present a revised proposal to the WTO next month that may include a timeline for a temporary IP waiver, but no further detail was available, CNN reported.