Access to Medicines and Knowledge, and the “Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rules (TRIPS)” Agreement of the WTO

Global Call to Action: WTO Waiver Now to End the Pandemic!

Monopoly restrictions under the TRIPS agreement include patents on medicines (diagnostics, treatments, and vaccines) as well as copyright restrictions (such as on books, music, etc.) There is no economic evidence for the specific terms of the intellectual property restrictions in the WTO, which are the only WTO rules which actually restrict trade, reduce consumer choice, and increase prices thousands of times more than the marginal cost of production (and are therefore the opposite of “free” trade.)

At the time of the founding of the WTO, developed countries pressured developing countries into agreeing to such monopolies on the guise that they would promote development and innovation. However, IP-related incomes for the OECD members swelled from less than USD 50 billion at the time of the founding of the WTO, to more than USD 350 billion in 2017, while developing country incomes from IP have remained flat at close to zero.

In the context of the Covid pandemic, it is outrageous that the saving of human life through widespread distribution of vaccines and treatments, many of which were created with public investment, is being restricted in favor of monopoly profits of giant pharmaceutical corporations.

In October 2020, in the middle of the Covid pandemic, several developing countries proposed that certain provisions of the TRIPS Agreement (patents, trade secrets, copyright and industrial designs) in relation to the containment, prevention and treatment of COVID-19 should be waived for the duration. This proposal is now co-sponsored by the Africa Group and the Least Developed Country Group, most of the other developing countries and the international health community. Unfortunately, states representing “Big Pharma” interests have remained steadfastly opposed.

For extensive coverage of all proposals and statements regarding the waiver, please see the website of the Third World Network, an OWINFS member which is co-leading the campaign to support this waiver in the WTO https://twn.my/title2/intellectual_property/trips_waiver_proposal.htm .

Having refused for over a year to take the steps identified by the global health community and supported by over 100 WTO members to resolve the pandemic, trade negotiators from the EU, Switzerland, Canada, the UK, and a few other countries - representing the interests of Big Pharma over their own citizens and global public health - have invented a diversionary tactic called the “Walker Process.” Allegedly on “Trade and Health,” this process is designed to try to save the WTO from its increasing irrelevance and illegitimacy, by drawing attention away from the WTO’s failure to remove the barriers of its Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rules (TRIPS) agreement to resolving the pandemic.

Major international civil society organisations exposed the sham of the so-called “Walker process” as a cynical scheme to distract from the failure of the WTO to resolve the COVID pandemic by agreeing to waive intellectual property (IP) barriers to Covid treatments, tests, and vaccines, through a letter sent on November 19, 2021 to Members of the WTO (see also the press release on the letter.)

The letter notes that “Ambassador Walker unilaterally tabled a proposed text which is clearly not designed to resolve the pandemic. Rather, the draft text promotes the same liberalization demands made by developed countries in various fora and interventions that will further constrain regulatory space and policy tools available to WTO Members…”

Walker’s text also calls on WTO Members to establish a “Work Plan on Pandemic Preparedness and Resilience.” However, the main intent of this work-plan appears to be to “push the liberalization and deregulatory interests of developed countries and undermine existing mandates” within the WTO which are of interest to developing countries that were never delivered. Notably, the Walker process specifically excludes discussion on the most important topic: the TRIPS waiver. The letter calls on WTO members to immediately agree to the TRIPS waiver as proposed.

The letter thus notes that the “reality is that the Walker process is a deplorable attempt by the WTO to cover up what should be a grave humiliation: its inability to agree to remove key obstacles to resolving the COVID-19 pandemic by waiving intellectual property barriers as per the TRIPS waiver proposal. Millions of people have died because of the WTO’s vaccine apartheid and inequitable access.”

The letter was endorsed by major global health, development, and human rights groups such as Amnesty International, Global Health Advocates, Health Poverty Action (HPA), the Latin American Network for Access to Medicine (RedLAM), Oxfam International, the Peoples Health Movement (PHM), and the People's Vaccine Alliance, which itself is a coalition of organizations including UNAIDS, health NGOs and global union federations such as International Trade Union Confederation, International Transport Workers’ Federation, Public Services International, UNI Global Union which represent more than 200 million workers in more than 163 countries, as well as multiple national and international groups. See also quotes from various of these organizations.

TRIPS Waiver Related to Covid-19

The original joint submission from India and South Africa in the WTO. (2 October 2020)

Statements and letters from Civil Society

Civil Society Open Letter to the WTO Director General. (16 February 2022)

Waive vaccine intellectual property rights now! Summary Statement from the Global Network for Academic Public Health and the World Federation of Public Health Associations. (25 November 2021)

Human rights advocates eye legal action against Canadian, German, Norwegian and UK governments over global COVID vaccine inequality. (25 November 2021)

Letter to WTO Members: Postpone the 12th Ministerial - TRIPS Waiver Now!   English, Spanish, French, media release. (23 November 2021)

Global civil society protest against WTO pushing ‘Walker text’, sidelining TRIPS waiver. (20 November 2021)

US CSO Letter to Biden on TRIPS Waiver and MC12. (19 November 2021)

Open letter to WTO Director General and all WTO Members Against the Sham “Walker Process” and in Favor of the TRIPS Waiver: English, Arabic. (19 November 2021)

Press Release on CSO Open Letter to WTO Director General and all WTO Members Against the Sham “Walker Process” and in Favor of the TRIPS Waiver. (19 November 2021)

Quotes from Civil Society on the so-called Walker Process. (18 November 2021)

WHAT’S COOKING FOR MC12? Two processes that could reshape the WTO in the interest of the most powerful: English, Spanish. (14 November 2021)

Full statement on the proposal for a waiver of the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS Agreement), and related vaccine equity issues. (Association of Schools of Public Health in the European Region, COVID-19 task force, Vaccination sub-group, 19 October 2021)

Open letter to heads of governments (UK, Germany, Switzerland and EU from over 375 trade unions, representing over 12 million transport workers from 118 countries (International Transport Workers' Federation). (14 October 2021)

Strengthening and streamlining national law responses beyond COVID- 19: Trade and intellectual property rules in the context of access to health technologies (Civil Society Event at the WTO Public Forum, 29 September 2021)

PSI (Public Services International): Waive WTO copyrights on Covid-19 medical products! (31 August 2021)

Why is Merkel damaging Germany’s global reputation — and her legacy — for the sake of pharma profits? (by PSI General Secretary Rosa Pavanelli, 20 July 2021)

Statement by public sector labor unions: EU’s commitment urgently needed on vaccine scale up and TRIPS waiver. (14 July 2021)

Letter from over 200 CSOs from around the world, calling on the European Commission and the EU Member States to reconsider its communications to the TRIPS Council and constructively engage in the text-based negotiations of the TRIPS waiver proposal supported by over 100 WTO members. (English, Spanish, German) (29 June 2021)

Academics’ letter to the USTR and EU Trade Commissioner: Support Pandemic Recovery for Least Developed Countries. (April 22, 2021)

Large majority of US voters support patent waiver on Covid-19 vaccines (Progressive International, April 15, 2021)

250 civil society organizations from around the world call on WTO Director General to facilitate a waiver on TRIPS to save lives. (April 13, 2021)

How Bill Gates Impeded Global Access to Covid Vaccines: Through his hallowed foundation, the world’s de facto public health czar has been a stalwart defender of monopoly medicine. (April 12, 2021)

Pharma In The White House: Financial Disclosures Reveal Officials' Stake In Vaccine Manufacturers. (Revolving Door Project, March 29, 2021)

Over 250 CSOs & researchers join call in support of TRIPS waiver. (TWN News Service, March 24, 2021)

Statement: Civil society organizations and prominent researchers and experts, representing millions of researchers, educators, libraries, and support organizations globally, call for reduction of copyright barriers to COVID-19 prevention, containment and treatment (March 22, 2021)

Various statements from civil society in support of TRIPS waiver:

Statements by government representatives in favor of the TRIPS waiver

Letter from Senators Baldwin, Brown, Sanders and Warren to President Biden, in favor of a WTO waiver on intellectual property barriers blocking vaccine production. (2 November 2021)

US Expresses Support for the TRIPS Waiver. (5 May 2021)

Letter from 110 Members of U.S. Congress to President Biden: Majority of Democratic Caucus call on White House to support TRIPS waiver for global vaccine access. (4 May 2021)

Joint appeal by 388 members of the European Parliament and of European national parliaments urging the EU and its member states to support a TRIPS waiver. (April 21, 2021)

Former world leaders call on Biden to suspend Covid-19 vaccine patents. (Financial Times, April 15, 2021)

Former heads of state and Nobel laureates call on President Biden to waive intellectual property rules for COVID vaccines. (April 14, 2021)

More than 50 European MEPs back proposal for TRIPS waiver on vaccines. (Livemint, March 26, 2021)

Declaration from more than 100 European Parliament members calling on EC and Member States not to block TRIPS waiver. (24 February 2021)

Open Letter from 37 Members of the Scottish Parliament. (9 December 2020)

Senators from Pakistan, Colombia, the Philippines and Malaysia (8 December 2020)

100 UK parliamentarians urge UK government to support waiver (23 November 2020)

H.E. Archbishop Ivan Jurkovič, Permanent Observer of the Holy See (16 October 2020)

Chilean House of Representatives Resolution (15 October 2020)

Statements by Intergovernmental Organizations in favor of the TRIPS waiver

African Commission of Human and Peoples' Rights (13 November 2020)

Statement by UN Human Rights Experts (9 November 2020)

World Health Organization (9 November 2020)

World Health Organization (17 October 2020)

Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) (15 October 2020)

UNITAID (13 October 2020)

Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (12 October 2020)

South Centre (7 October 2020)

Opinion pieces

News Reports from the Third World Network

Emergence of "vaccine apartheid" at WTO's upcoming MC12?, by D. Ravi Kanth. (23 November 2021)

EU & allies adopt "diversionary" tactics on TRIPS waiver at WTO, by D. Ravi Kanth. (11 November 2021)

Global jurists call for waiver of global intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics. (9 November 2021)

WTO: Walker process on response to pandemic raises questions of credibility, by D. Ravi Kanth. (1 November 2021)

WTO: Four South countries propose bold approach on response to pandemic, by D. Ravi Kanth. (27 October 2021)

COVID-19: UN experts call for urgent action on universal access to vaccines, by Kanaga Raja. (21 October 2021)

US proposes "peace clause" for disputes concerning IPRs at WTO, by D. Ravi Kanth. (21 October 2021)

Need to de-link TRIPS waiver from other MC12 issues, by D. Ravi Kanth. (19 October 2021)

Video: COVID 19 - Europe's Broken Promises on Equitable Access. (19 October 2021)

South Africa's President calls for delivering on TRIPS waiver at MC12, by D. Ravi Kanth. (5 October 2021)

Webinar: Access Barriers to Covid-19 Therapeutics & Diagnostics: A Case for TRIPS Waiver. (4 October 2021)

A Pandemic Treaty - In Whose Interest? (EC envisages a framework convention with binding and non-binding provisions). (3 October 2021)

Trends and strategies in the use of competition law to promote innovation of and affordable access to health technologies. (26 September 2021)

New publication: Pharmaceutical patents, the LDC exemption and Bangladesh. (20 September 2021)

EU, Switzerland, UK continue opposition, amid support for TRIPS waiver, by D. Ravi Kanth. (16 September 2021)

Candidates for German Chancellor called to waive IP rules for COVID vaccines. (15 September 2021)

Today High Level Dialogue -TRIPS Waiver. (13 September 2021)

TRIPS waiver proposal being undermined by EU at WTO, by D. Ravi Kanth. (10 August 2021)

WTO-WHO Dialogue hears call to treat "patents & profits" as second priority due to COVID-19, by D. Ravi Kanth. (23 July 2021)

Co-sponsors remain upbeat on progressing on TRIPS waiver at WTO, by D. Ravi Kanth. (18 July 2021)

Progress in TRIPS waiver talks despite new hurdles created by EU, by D. Ravi Kanth. (8 July 2021)

Singapore & Jamaica hold meet to promote DG's "third way" approach, by D. Ravi Kanth. (7 July 2021)

LDCs obtain 13 year TRIPS transition period, but nothing on post-graduation, by D. Ravi Kanth. (30 June 2021)

New TWN Briefing paper: Trade secrets protection and vaccines: The role of medicine regulatory agencies, by K M Gopakumar, Chetali Rao & Sangeeta Shashikant. (25 June 2021)

UN: Vaccines against COVID-19 must be considered a global public good, by Kanaga Raja. (23 June 2021)

Developing countries remain upbeat on TRIPS waiver negotiations, by D. Ravi Kanth. (21 June 2021)

WTO Members agree to text-based negotiations on revised TRIPS waiver, by D. Ravi Kanth. (11 June 2021)

EU proposal seeks to derail TRIPS waiver discussions at WTO, by D. Ravi Kanth. (8 June 2021)

Revised TRIPS waiver bolsters demand for text-based talks at WTO, by D. Ravi Kanth. (3 June 2021)

LDCs urged to drop "post-graduation" element under TRIPS Art. 66.1., by D. Ravi Kanth. (21 May 2021)

Co-sponsors of TRIPS waiver proposal call for solidarity at WTO, by D. Ravi Kanth. (19 May 2021)

WTO: Will US & EU bully poorest nations on intellectual property amidst a global pandemic?, by Sangeeta Shashikant. (12 May 2021)

Door opens for TRIPS waiver textual negotiations, by D. Ravi Kanth. (12 May 2021)

Brazil: Court rules against patent extension provision, by Lean Ka-Min. (11 May 2021)

WTO members welcome US decision on TRIPS waiver, by D. Ravi Kanth. (10 May 2021)

In "monumental" decision, US expresses support for TRIPS waiver, by D. Ravi Kanth. (7 May 2021)

UN: UNCTAD unveils portal on Covid-19's impact on trade & development, by Kanaga Raja. (6 May 2021)

USTR plans to visit Geneva to discuss TRIPS waiver, by D. Ravi Kanth. (4 May 2021)

High Level Dialogue TRIPS Waiver (4 May, 3.30pm CEST). (1 May 2021)

LLDCs face pronounced challenges in the wake of COVID-19, by Kanaga Raja. (28 April 2021)

Big Pharma to block TRIPS waiver at WTO, citing China & Russia, by D. Ravi Kanth. (27 April 2021)

TRIPS waiver proposal being held hostage on "ideological" grounds, by D. Ravi Kanth. (24 April 2021)

Vaccine equity event enabled "frank" discussions, claims WTO DG, by D. Ravi Kanth. (21 April 2021)

WTO DG's vaccine event marked by sharply differing perspectives. (17 April 2021)

CSOs challenge DG’s “third way”, as USTR discusses TRIPS waiver. (16 April 2021)

WTO-TRIPS waiver: "Third Way" Set to Reinforce Status Quo? (12 April 2021)

UPDATED: Attempts to slow down discussions on TRIPS waiver at WTO. (10 April 2021)

Leaders want to address future pandemics while ignoring COVID-19, by D. Ravi Kanth. (31 March 2021)

UN: HRC calls for equitable & universal access to COVID-19 vaccines. (25 March 2021)

Updated TWN Briefing paper on International negotiations by virtual means in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic. (24 March 2021)

Over 250 CSOs & researchers join call in support of TRIPS waiver. (24 March 2021)

International Research Organizations Support WTO TRIPS Waiver for COVID-19. (22 March 2021)

Strong support for TRIPS waiver amidst opposition by Big Pharma. (12 March 2021)

Seven countries urge WTO DG to hold direct talks with Big Pharma. (11 March 2021)

WTO DG's "third way" to fight COVID-19 a tough sell. (10 March 2021)

WTO DG meets Big Pharma and opts for voluntary licenses. (10 March 2021)

COVID-19: WHO DG calls for triggering of TRIPS waiver at WTO. (9 March 2021)

South countries demand text-based negotiations on TRIPS waiver. (3 March 2021)

Two-thirds of WTO members issue call for a TRIPS waiver. (25 February 2021)

US lawmakers urge Biden to support TRIPS waiver proposal at WTO. (22 February 2021)

UN: COVID-19 crisis exacerbating inequalities, undermining human rights, by Kanaga Raja. (19 February 2021)

Developing countries call for text-based negotiations on TRIPS waiver. (8 February 2021)

"Global approach" based on TRIPS waiver needed to combat Covid-19. (29 January 2021)

COVID-19: Vaccines war underscores need for TRIPS waiver at WTO. (29 January 2021)

Proponents of TRIPS waiver call for text-based negotiations. (25 January 2021)

COVID-19: Global "moral failure" in distribution of vaccines, says WHO DG. (20 January 2021)

Proponents of TRIPS waiver issue documents to facilitate discussions. (19 January 2021)

Opponents of TRIPS waiver asked to respond to questions by proponents. (15 January 2021)

TRIPS waiver gains more support despite efforts to stall its passage. (14 December 2020)

US & allies adopt "diversionary" tactics to block TRIPS waiver. (8 December 2020)

Developed countries continue to block TRIPS waiver proposal. (24 November 2020)

TRIPS Council to resume discussions next week on TRIPS waiver. (16 November 2020)

COVID-19: Licensing deals on vaccines reinforce need for TRIPS waiver. (12 November 2020)

Battle-lines being drawn over upcoming discussion on TRIPS waiver. (7 November 2020)

South Africa, India strongly rebut arguments against TRIPS waiver. (20 October 2020)

Proposal for TRIPS waiver secures strong support from South. (20 October 2020)

India, South Africa seek TRIPS waiver to combat COVID-19. (6 October 2020) 

LDC Extension of the Transition Period on TRIPS

Letter from MEPs Calling on Commission to Support the request of the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) to the WTO TRIPS Council on the LDC transition period. (20 May 2021)

Letter from more than 50 Academics to the USTR and EU Trade Commission in Favor of the LDC’s Request for Extending the Transition Period. (22 April 2021)

Statement from the Electronic Information for Libraries (EIFL), “EIFL calls on the World Trade Organization (WTO) to grant a request by Least Developed Countries (LDCs) to extend the LDC TRIPS exemption. (16 February 2021)

Civil Society Letter from 112 Organizations to Members of the WTO Concerning a Further Extension of the Transition Period for LDCs under article 66.1 of the TRIPS Agreement. (4 February 2021)

Previous work

OWINFS has campaigned against the TRIPS agreement’s patent monopolies since our founding. For more on this work before the Covid-19 crisis, please see here.