Tuesday 11 May 2021 11:34 am

UK engages in Covid vaccine waiver discussions with the US and WTO

The UK has begun seeking constructive engagement with the US and other World Trade Organisation (WTO) members on the conflicting issue of vaccine waivers, a government spokesman has said.

Following pressure from charities to back the proposal, the UK government is yet to confirm whether it will back the US’ waiver.

The waiver, proposed by US president Joe Biden last week, would see vaccine makers give up intellectual property (IP) rights to Covid-19 vaccines.

“We are engaging with the US and other WTO members constructively on the TRIPS waiver issue, but we need to act now to expand production and distribution worldwide,” the government spokesman said in an email to Reuters.

These are only the beginnings of what will likely be lengthy discussions, with some countries contesting it will be for the greater good like many charities have suggested.

Germany hit back at the waiver proposal last week, with the country’s health minister, Jens Spahn, similarly urging that “the main issue is not patent protection but production capacity.”

“I would be delighted if the United States shows the same willingness to export vaccines that we in Germany do,” Spahn said.

In light of Germany’s stance, the UK government spokesperson added that “any negotiations in the WTO on a waiver will require unanimous support, which could take a significant amount of time.”

“So, while we will constructively engage in the IP discussions, we must continue to push ahead with action now including voluntary licensing agreements for vaccines.”