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Support for the WTO TRIPS waiver on vaccine IP rules

Good news! Thanks to the activism of Australian unionists and community members, Trade Minister Dan Tehan publicly stated last week that Australia is now supporting the global push for a waiver on intellectual property rules that give pharmaceutical companies 20-year monopolies on COVID-19 vaccines and treatments.

On 26 August 2021, the EU Federal Council authorised correspondence to be sent to Dr Tehan, Federal Minister for Trade, calling for the Federal Government to support the World Trade Organisation, Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) Agreement (TRIPs) Waiver.

The IEU became aware that the World Trade Organisation (WTO) is negotiating a proposal, supported by over 100 countries, to temporarily waive the monopoly provisions for COVID-19 medical products for the duration of the pandemic, thus allowing vaccines to be more readily produced and available to low-income countries.

The waiver is needed urgently because the WTO rules give pharmaceutical companies 20-year monopolies, meaning the supply and price of vaccines is controlled by few companies who have already made billions from vaccines largely developed with public funds. Australia has felt the impact of these monopolies too, with both Pfizer and Moderna refusing to share intellectual property to allow local production in Australia. If pharmaceutical companies continue to control vaccine access, millions more will die and more dangerous virus variants like Delta will develop.

The IEU is aware that other world governments, including the US and NZ have given support to the proposal and as such the Union sort reassurances that the Australian Government will provide support to the waiver proposal thus enabling increased global production capacity, ensuring affordable prices and facilitating technology transfer.

Over the last 18 months, COVID-19 has claimed millions of lives and continues to cripple societies and economies. While the pandemic rages, new more contagious and dangerous variants continue to appear and to spread. No one is safe unless everyone is safe. To overcome this pandemic, we need global cooperation and solidarity.

The IEU has welcomed the development of safe and effective vaccines. Achieving herd immunity through the widespread use of these vaccines is the only ethical path to ending this pandemic and rebuilding a fairer economy and more equitable and safe society.

Endorsing this waiver is key to supporting equitable global vaccine access and will allow developing countries to access and produce much-needed supplies during the pandemic.

While the IEU welcomes the announcement from Minister Tehan, it needs to be backed up with concrete action. The WTO operates on consensus basis, and key countries like Germany continue to advocate for alternative proposals that will not deliver affordable access to vaccines to low income countries where millions are dying and more infectious strains continue to develop.

Ahead of the next WTO TRIPS Council meetings, the Australian Government needs keep to their word and put its words into action and work with other supportive countries at the upcoming WTO meetings to put people over profits.

The IEU calls on Minister Tehan to make a formal public statement of Australia’s support of the waiver and actively promote the waiver proposal to the few countries which are still blocking it.