Quotes: Problems with Holding WTO’s MC12 In-Person with the New Variants and European Travel Bans on Southern Africa

For Immediate Release
November 26, 2021, 17h30 CET
Contact: Deborah James, djames@cepr.net

Quotes on Problems with Holding WTO’s MC12 In-Person with the New Variants and European Travel Bans on Southern Africa

Austria, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and the United Kingdom (UK) [update: and now the EU and Switzerland] are among the countries who have just banned flights from South Africa and most have also banned flights from Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe with travel from Zambia also banned by some. Nevertheless the 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) of the World Trade Organization (WTO) is still scheduled to go ahead, in-person, in Geneva from 30 November to 3 December 2021. Under WTO rules, if a member is not present, they are deemed to have consented to whatever is decided by others.

The European Union, Switzerland and the UK are still blocking the proposed waiver of Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rules (TRIPS) on vaccines, treatments, and diagnostics to deal with COVID-19 which was proposed more than a year ago. The waiver is supported by the global health community and more than 100 countries.

The waiver would have allowed the scale-up of production, so more people could have been vaccinated, and there would be less scope for dangerous variants of COVID-19 to evolve. It is the obstinacy of the opponents of the waiver who created the conditions for this variant to spread.

More than 130 global, regional and national civil society organisations (CSOs) from around the world ( https://ourworldisnotforsale.net/2021_R_postpone_MC12 ) had already called for MC12 to be postponed - since even before the current travel bans, all commercial flights had been suspended to a number of developing countries who have no embassy in Geneva and so would be unable to attend MC12. Their letter instead called for all WTO Members and the Secretariat to place all efforts on coming to urgent agreement on the TRIPS waiver to remove the barriers of intellectual property rules for products to prevent, treat or contain COVID-19, which can be agreed in a General Council meeting. Another group of 86 CSOs sent a letter exposing the sham "Walker Process" as a distraction to cover up the WTO’s failure to address its own barriers to resolving the pandemic by agreeing to the waiver. ( https://ourworldisnotforsale.net/2021_L_Walker_Process )

Below please find quotes from various civil society organizations with regards to the new variant and the announced travel bans, who can be contacted for interviews on the subject.

“The WTO will host an in person Ministerial Conference in a pandemic, in Geneva, with black & brown people mostly banned from travelling there, but won't pass a Waiver in a pandemic. This is VACCINE APARTHEID. We know the WTO and EU and UK do not like its many former colonial subjects saying it, but hiding the truth won't help. The travel ban is also anti-science and makes no sense. It is linked to a year-long battle to get speedy, timely access to vaccines. The countries banning us also prevented us from accessing life saving vaccines at the SAME TIME as them - in the first place. The very waiver blockers are now also the governments banning us. We warned when the waiver was first proposed: vaccinate everyone, everywhere, fast, because of variants.” Fatima Hassan, Health Justice Initiative, South Africa.
Note: I was due to travel to MC12, but cannot - my flights transit through areas that will not allow South Africans to land. Also the Swiss have not yet given me a duly requested vaccine certificate even though I am doubly vaxxed with Pfizer meaning I would eat outside in the cold and would be not able to enter any building or cafe - so postpone the MC 12 - yes please, postpone.

“The spread of new variants is the direct result of the staggering inequitable access to vaccines, therapeutics, diagnostics and other products needed to treat and contain the Covid-19 pandemic. Intellectual property monopolies are causing the inequity. Rather than lift these monopolies by adopting the TRIPS Waiver proposal, the EU, UK, Switzerland, Norway and a few other countries have consistently tried to sideline the proposal and instead are pushing for text that provides a sham WTO Response to Covid-19 that marginalizes issues that are of concern to developing countries” - Sangeeta Shashikant, Third World Network, sangeeta@twnetwork.org

"Since we were made and kept poor by colonialism, capitalism and racism we have been dying from diseases such as cholera, tuberculosis and diarrhoea. This is why we fear that we will continue to die from the corona virus. We fear that even when most of the world has managed to control the virus, this pandemic will remain for the poor. Vaccines cannot only be for the rich. They cannot be a profit-making business. All medicines should be for all of humanity. They must be made free for all people. Medicine cannot be a business. That is anti-human. Medical knowledge should be organised like a library, not a business." Sbu Zikode | President, Abahlali baseMjondolo Movement S.A.

“We are in a situation that was entirely avoidable, if the UK and other wealthy countries had supported the Covid intellectual property waiver. For over a year, we have had a small number of countries blocking this critical move, and now we have a highly transmissible new variant emerge because of lack of vaccine access in the Global South. It would be a travesty for the World Trade Organization’s ministerial meeting to go ahead in a context where the representatives of those countries most devastated by the pandemic are banned from attending. The fact that we are where we are is a shocking indictment of the failure of the UK and the other countries blocking the TRIPS waiver to respond to the pandemic. We need a TRIPS waiver without delay.” Leah Sullivan, War on Want, UK.

“Adding insult to injury, the EU countries that have been blocking the TRIPS waiver and thus failing to facilitate production of vaccines in developing countries are now banning travel from Africa, because a dangerous COVID variant has emerged there. The emergence of that variant is entirely due to the foolish policy of allowing Big Pharma to control vaccine production so as to reap profits from research and development that was publicly funded, instead of combating a global epidemic by ramping up national production, in all countries, of vaccines.” Richard Hill, Association for Proper Internet Governance, Geneva, Switzerland.

“The sad truth is that had the TRIPS waiver been agreed when it was first proposed last year, more vaccines would have been available, and more people around the world would have received them, reducing the risks of the emergence of new variants. Nothing is stopping the waiver being agreed except the intransigence of a few states that are refusing to put people’s lives and rights ahead of the profits of pharma companies based in their territories and who are playing a smoke and mirrors game with ineffectual proposals like the Walker Process. It’s time for action, not distraction. Let’s see a comprehensive TRIPS waiver agreed next week by whatever means necessary.” Netsanet Belay, Research and Advocacy Director, Amnesty International.

“Our world is held hostage by the greed of pharmaceutical company executives, their shareholders and the politicians and WTO bureaucrats they apparently own. As a result, we face a renewed resurgence of the pandemic and the threat of a variant that evades vaccine-induced immunity. The promise of rapid updating of mRNA vaccines to address such threats appears to be limited artificially by the refusal to provide the full recipe for their production, even as therapeutics are hijacked as part of the disaster capitalism profiteering that will needlessly harm and kill thousands (molnupiravir is a bust). When will the world listen to the needs of the people instead of parasitic shareholders?” George M. Carter, Founder/Director, Foundation for Integrative AIDS Research (FIAR), www.fiar.us

“The EU is playing dirty tricks: pretending it is making a compromise proposal when it has not, and instead pushing a “WTO Response to Covid-19” that is a cynical sham because it represents the same liberalization agenda and will not resolve the pandemic. Now it’s setting up a Blame Game to pretend that India and South Africa are at fault for a lack of agreement in the WTO - when their proposal is supported by over 100 Members of the WTO, the global health community, former Heads of State, the European Parliament, Members of Congress, trade unions and civil society groups representing over 200 million people around the world.

“The sham “Walker Process” is NOT a response to the pandemic as it deliberately excluded the TRIPS waiver, which is the only thing that will resolve the pandemic. Now the EU wants to ban southern Africans from being able to participate in the meeting? As the institutions whose rules enforce vaccine apartheid, the WTO never should have convened MC12 under conditions of vaccine apartheid, and now it is incredibly clear: MC12 must be postponed. Instead, members must focus their efforts fully on agreeing to a waiver to treat, contact, and resolve Covid-19 immediately. The state of the world’s health should not depend on decisions made by a trade body, but unfortunately that is the reality of the WTO.” Deborah James, Center for Economic and Policy Research, US.

“In no universe worth living in does the WTO’s decades-old inner conflict over trade governance supersede the real-life crisis of the Covid-19 pandemic. We can safely postpone the upcoming ministerial conference in Geneva, which cannot now be held inclusively or safely given new Covid variants in Southern Africa and new lockdown measures in Europe. But we cannot wait any longer to waive WTO-protected intellectual property rights acting as barriers to the rapid production of enough pandemic-related vaccines and treatments,” says Stuart Trew, Senior Researcher with the Ottawa-based Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

“The UK has actively prevented low and middle-income countries from having equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines. We have created the conditions for this variant to emerge. It was entirely avoidable.
“For more than a year, South Africa, Botswana, and most countries in the world have been calling for world leaders to waive intellectual property on coronavirus vaccines, tests and treatments, so they can produce their own jabs. It’s a vital measure that will be discussed at next week’s World Trade Organisation conference. But, so far, the UK and EU have recklessly blocked it from making progress.
“There have been countless warnings that super-variants could emerge if we do not remove artificial barriers to global vaccination. If and when this new variant starts to tear through the world, remember that the British government has led opposition to the plan that could have stopped it.” Tim Bierley, Pharma Campaigner - Global Justice Now, UK.

“After a year of WTO intellectual property monopolies not being waived to boost global production so enough COVID vaccines could be made to cover the world and stop new variants from emerging, the WTO’s Ministerial Conference must be postponed as this new “blocked-WTO-Waiver” variant is causing travel bans that will keep southern African trade officials from attending. There is only one thing that the WTO must do now and that is to get out of the way of ending the pandemic by waiving its IP barriers now limiting the needed global production of COVID vaccines and other medicines and such a waiver does not require a Ministerial meeting, but can be agreed at any WTO General Council session.” Lori Wallach, Director, Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch.