The debate over the release of patents for Covid-19 vaccines has crept onto the agenda of divided European leaders on the issue, gathering for an informal summit in Porto this weekend.
Brussels was dragged by the announcement of the United States to join the negotiations to release patents for vaccines in the context of the World Trade Organization promoted by India and South Africa and which has the support of a hundred countries. And reluctantly picked up the glove. “The EU is ready to discuss any proposal that addresses the crisis effectively and pragmatically, “said the president of the European Commission on Thursday Ursula von der Leyen“So we are ready to negotiate how the United States’ proposal to release intellectual property protection for COVID19 vaccines can help achieve that goal.”
Opening up to negotiations represents a major shift in the European position. Von der Leyen herself confessed in an interview with him New York Times last week that “I was not a friend of releasing patents” and its Health Commissioner, Stella Kyriakides, has also questioned the effectiveness of the measure to guarantee the supply of vaccines. Even the European Parliament, which is now also showing its support for the release of patents, rejected this possibility outright, after the Left included an amendment symbolically in the context of the launch of the digital green certificate, the vaccination passport that negotiates the EU.
But Brussels insists that the solution, in the short term, goes through increasing production capacity in developing countries and exports of vaccines. That is why the president called for “all vaccine-producing countries to allow exports immediately and avoid measures that disrupt supply chains,” looking to London and Washington, from where hardly any doses have come from throughout the pandemic.
Even if trade jurisdiction is exclusive to the Commission, the issue is very sensitive. And the position of the twenty-seven on this is far from being consensual. “Releasing patents has much broader consequences and we cannot anticipate what the position of the leaders will be,” acknowledged a community source after the Biden administration’s announcement. The decision requires unanimity in the WTO. Switzerland, Japan and the UK oppose. And any decision could take months.
The french president Emmanuel Macron said yesterday that he is “absolutely in favor” of the measure. Also the Italian Prime Minister, Mario Draghi, showed his willingness to participate in the negotiation and even Belgium, the vaccine factory in Europe, would be open to sit at the negotiating table given the “exceptional circumstances,” said Prime Minister Alexander De Croo asked about the issue during an appearance before Parliament, although not without the unlikely go-ahead from the industry.
While, German Chancellor Angela Merkel flatly refuses to release patents because it considers that it could have “serious consequences” for the production of vaccines in the world. “The protection of intellectual property is a source of innovation and must continue to be so in the future,” insisted Merkel, who argues that it is the problems with “production capacities and high quality standards, not patents” that are hindering the supply of vaccines in the world.
An analysis shared by both the President of the Council of Europe, Charles Michel, what I defended the so-called “third way”, introduced by the Director General of the WTO, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who goes through guarantee the transfer of technologies, concession agreements for the production of vaccines from pharmaceutical companies – something that AstraZeneca has already started to do, for example in India – and financial support to increase production capacity in developing countries. Spain also supports this option and has made it known through a non-paper, an informal proposal that exposes the country’s position in the face of the debate and tries to influence it.
The Spanish proposal
“Inequality in access to vaccines between developed and developing countries is not only the basis for a feeling of injustice, but also poses a risk to the health of the world. No one will be sure until everyone is. We can only achieve this through international cooperation and multilateral organizations, “reads the document presented by the Spanish government ahead of the leaders’ dinner that will take place on Friday night in Porto.
Spain defends that it is necessary maximize production capacity and ensure operation supply chains to ensure global distribution of COVID19 vaccines.
On the one hand, the Spanish government supports the negotiation to release, provisionally, patents for vaccines. “Intellectual property cannot be an obstacle to ending COVID-19 and guaranteeing equitable and universal access to vaccines,” the document reads. But the negotiation, assuming it got anywhere, would take months. For this reason, the government insists on the need for voluntary knowledge and technology transfers that allow the production of vaccines. Something that in fact is already happening albeit on a small scale.
For another, Spain calls for the creation of a platform to support production capacity in developing countries and facilitate the trade of both vaccines and the components necessary for their manufacture. Finally, he insists on the need to increase contributions to COVAX, the initiative of the United Nations Organization that aims to guarantee supply to low and middle income countries and in which the EU and its member states have already invested. several billion euros.
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George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism