US Civil society groups, lawmakers press Biden to support India's TRIPS waiver proposal on Covid-19 vaccines

US Civil society groups, lawmakers press Biden to support India's TRIPS waiver proposal on Covid-19 vaccines

Hundreds of civil society groups in the US, along with several progressive lawmakers, are keeping up the pressure on the Biden administration to support India's TRIPS waiver on Covid-19 vaccines, reported Inside US Trade - an online news service.

India along with South Africa is at the forefront in a proposal introduced in October 2020, before the World Trade Organization (WTO) in the TRIPS council, for a waiver during Covid-19 to allow more countries to get equitable access to medicines.

Earlier, 57 members of the WTO supported India's proposal for Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) waiver on Covid-19 vaccines.

The issue has galvanized advocacy groups as a question of equity. The waiver, which would apply to a swath of obligations under the WTO Agreement on TRIPS, is set to be discussed at the General Council meeting next week.

The push comes as poorer countries are trailing significantly behind richer countries in administering vaccines. According to the United Nations last week, 130 countries have not received a single dose of any Covid-19 vaccines, reported Inside US Trade.

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"Where is the moral imperative? Beyond anything else, that is what needs to be the motivation here," Rosa DeLauro (Connecticut), a member of the Democratic Party, said during a press conference announcing a letter from more than 400 US-based civil society groups to President Biden. "The moral imperative to save lives. The United States should lead that charge. We should not be denying others the opportunity to do this. We have the wherewithal to do this."

Support for the waiver is gaining momentum among Democrats. DeLauro was joined at the press conference by Earl Blumenauer (Oregon) and Jan Schakowsky (Illinois).

Schakowsky is spearheading a letter to the president with fellow members of Congress that will urge him to support the waiver. Schakowsky, deputy whip for House Democrats, has previously said, and reiterated on Friday, that the waiver is supported by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The General Council next week is not expected to make any decisions on the TRIPS waiver but will receive a status update from the chair of the TRIPS Council on the state of the talks, reported Inside US Trade.

Advocates are urging the Biden administration to use that opportunity to lift the US opposition and allow WTO members to proceed to text-based discussions in the council, according to Public Citizen's Lori Wallach. She told reporters on Friday that the General Council is the place to show political direction on the waiver. The US position so far, she argued, "has basically been a filibuster."

Meanwhile, the US, the European Union, Canada and Japan, among others, have so far opposed it, arguing that intellectual property is critical to innovation and that existing TRIPS flexibilities - including compulsory licensing - are sufficient to address any IP-related concerns.

The proponents, meanwhile, maintain that the waiver is needed to allow those with the capacity to ramp up production and ensure poorer countries have equal access to the vaccines.

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