GENEVA (dpa-AFX) – After a long struggle, 164 members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) reached an agreement to expand the production of corona vaccines. Governments should temporarily be able to easily circumvent pharmaceutical company patents in order to save lives. While the federal government was pleased with the breakthrough early Friday morning, both criticized pharmaceutical industry and civil society groups have signed the agreement.
Agreement was also reached on harmful subsidies for fisheries. However, the controversial sub-area had to be excluded for the time being. In addition, ministers extended the agreement not to impose any tariffs on cross-border digital trade – for example on streaming services. Trade ministers undertook in a declaration on food security to minimize the application of export restrictions and adopted a road map for reforms at the WTO.
For the German export industry, the priorities lay elsewhere: they demanded the restoration of the partially paralyzed dispute settlement procedure and the reform of WTO rules. It’s about dealing with state-owned companies like those in China that are competing in the world market. Both are to be resolved within the next two years. With this decision, the conference “barely escaped a complete failure,” said Volker Treier, head of foreign trade at the Association of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (DIHK). The multilateral system of the WTO is essential as the basic framework for world trade and the international division of labor. The German government needs to be more involved.
For the first time in years, the WTO has reached an agreement. The organization threatened to plunge into irrelevance. then president of the USA Donald Trump he wanted to leave. When this conference also threatened to fail, WTO chief Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala pushed through an extension on Wednesday. “You don’t come home empty-handed,” said the 68-year-old at sunrise on Friday. “The WTO has shown its ability to respond to the challenges of our time.”
The Federal Ministry of Economy praised the patent agreement known as “Trips waiver” – the intellectual property restrictions of the Trips Agreement. Governments could therefore, against the will of pharmaceutical companies, issue compulsory licenses to produce vaccines against Covid-19 without generally questioning intellectual property protection, said German Secretary of State Udo Philipp. Compulsory licensing was also possible before, but now they go a bit further in some areas.
The IFPMA pharmaceutical association has expressed disappointment. This is a dangerous signal for science. Full patent rights are required to innovate. A similar statement was made by the German pharmaceutical industry. “Here, patent law is used politically, rather than solving problems that really exist,” said Han Steutel, president of the Research-Based Drug Manufacturers Association. The production of corona vaccines is no longer a problem. Rather, there is an oversupply. If patent protection were relaxed, even more would be produced to stockpile at best.
Companies often invest years in drug and vaccine research. Only a fraction works. Companies then want to monetize the products by protecting their licenses.
On the other hand, organizations such as People’s Vaccine Alliance and Oxfam have criticized the agreement as ineffective, also because it only contains vaccines, not drugs and diagnostics. Due to a number of conditions, little is left of the original request to invalidate the patents. “It is disgraceful that WTO members prioritize saving a sick institution and indecent corporate profits over saving lives,” said Melinda St. Louis of Public Citizen. In particular, the EU blocked the de facto waiver of patent rights.
Doctors Without Borders also see little benefit: “The measures will neither counteract pharmaceutical monopolies nor guarantee affordable access to life-saving medical aids.”
The fisheries agreement has been under negotiation for over 20 years. Subsidies for illegal and unregulated fishing should be banned. Other subsidies that contribute to overfishing are to be renegotiated. “Nevertheless, we finally managed to find a compromise that could lift all 164 WTO members and thus make a significant contribution to the sustainable development of the world’s fisheries,” said Secretary of State Philipp. Pew Charitable Trusts, an organization committed to sustainable fisheries, was pleased. This is a turning point in the fight against one of the main causes of global overfishing. / Oe / DP / us