Emmanuel Macron has echoed the German government’s concerns about Joe Biden’s proposed suspension of intellectual property rights for Covid-19 vaccines, while urging the US and UK to start exporting doses. around the world.
Arriving at an EU summit in Porto in Portugal, the French president expressed reservations about the White House proposal to renounce patents and criticized the lack of exports from “Anglo-Saxon” countries.
“What is the current problem?” I ask. “This is not really about intellectual property. Can you transfer intellectual property to laboratories that do not know how to produce and will not produce tomorrow? The main solidarity issue is dose distribution.
“Today, Anglo-Saxons block a lot of these ingredients and vaccines,” he said. “Today, 100% of the vaccines produced in the United States are for the US market.”
Neither the UK nor the US have a formal export ban, but Washington has implemented the Defense Production Act to force manufacturers to fulfill domestic contracts before other orders, while the British government’s contract with AstraZeneca also prioritizes UK requirements.
A vaccine patent exemption would allow drug companies to make copycat vaccines without fear of legal action from manufacturers like Pfizer and AstraZeneca.
The proposal was relayed by Biden’s top business adviser, Katherine Tai, on Wednesday. Her assertion that “extraordinary circumstances of the Covid-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures,” prompted a public statement from the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, in which she said she was “open” to discuss the issue. .
But within the European Commission, which had only been informed shortly before the announcement of Biden’s proposal, and among the 27 EU member states there are serious reservations.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel had already rejected the American idea, warning that “production capacities and high quality standards, not patents” is the problem facing the world and that a “resignation” would have “serious implications ”.
“The protection of intellectual property is a source of innovation and must remain so in the future,” he had said on Thursday.
BionTech, a German company, holds a patent on a vaccine developed jointly with the American company Pfizer that uses the latest mRNA technology.
On Friday, the Canadian government also said it was also willing to discuss the idea, but emphasized the need to encourage business innovation. “Canada has actively worked with its partners to identify barriers to access to vaccines, many of which are not related to intellectual property, such as supply chain limitations,” said Canadian Trade Minister Mary Ng . “Our government strongly believes in the importance of protecting intellectual property [intellectual property] and recognizes the integral role that the industry has played in innovating to develop and deliver life-saving Covid-19 vaccines. “
EU officials said they had not yet seen the details of Biden’s proposal, but there was “no evidence on the table” that vaccine patents held by manufacturers would have restricted supply worldwide.
Newly appointed WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a Nigerian economist, echoed the sentiment on Friday, adding that while Africa imported 99% of its vaccines, patents “may not be the critical issue.” .
He said the WTO aimed at a “pragmatic solution that ensures access for developing countries to tackle vaccine inequity, while at the same time ensuring that we do not discourage research and innovation.”
There is growing frustration in Brussels and European capitals that the United States is trying to take the lead given that EU-based manufacturers have exported 200 million doses, while the White House has blocked vaccines leaving its shores. .
“I would love for the United States to show the same willingness to export vaccines as we do in Germany,” German Health Minister Jens Spahn said on Friday.
EU leaders are expected to discuss their position on a patent exemption at this weekend’s summit in Porto, with the 27 member states divided on the best way to proceed. A qualified majority will need to be found for a position that the commission will lead to negotiations with the United States and other WTO members.
“We have not been given a single example where capacity has been restricted due to the protection of patents or other intellectual property rights,” said an EU official. “If that were the case … we already have the tools that will allow us to react to that question.”
Officials said an alternative would be for WTO members to apply for “compulsory licenses” when a government allows a local manufacturer to produce a product or process without the consent of the patent owner for domestic consumption.
Alternatively, a government could apply for a compulsory license to export to a country that lacks the manufacturing facilities to supply its domestic market. “The urgency now is what is the best pragmatic solution to use the manufacturing capacity and produce as many vaccines as possible in the short term,” said the EU official.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism