WTO Fights New War on Drugs, COVID Tests

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A new dispute may be brewing at the World Trade Organization over whether to extend the partial waiver of intellectual property rights to treatments and testing, less than a month after a hard-won agreement was struck on the subject as reported by US News.

Agreement to debate 

The June deal includes an agreement to debate waiving certain IP rights for tests and drugs, which the pharmaceutical industry says could lead to a broader unravelling of protections for treatments for other diseases.

“This will increase the accessibility of these crucial life-saving COVID-19 tools.”

The document, shared with other WTO members, foresees a decision by the WTO’s top decision-making body, the General Council, in November or December.

A WTO spokesperson was not immediately available for comment.

One source said there was a potential for renewed conflict between wealthy countries, which opposed a full waiver on the grounds that it would restrict research and investment, and proponents such as India and South Africa.

Pandora’s Box?

For opponents, the stakes are higher than ever.

Many COVID drugs and tests are also used for other diseases.

“It’s Pandora’s box and sends completely the wrong signal for future pandemic preparedness,” said Thomas Cueni, head of global pharmaceutical industry group IFPMA, adding it would undermine quality control and incentives for research.

WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala helped overcome the stalemate by calling for a parallel set of “quad” talks between four parties: India, South Africa, the United States and the European Union.

It remains to be seen whether she will use her convening powers this time.

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Source: US News

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