The EU’s trade chief pushes to produce more Covid jab without renouncing patents

Europe’s trade leader has called for a rapid increase in global vaccine production as the best way to fight the pandemic, arguing ahead of crisp discussions next week against a tight focus on the pandemic. patent waiver supported by the United States.

Valdis Dombrovskis told the FT that the European Union’s approach was based on “vaccine response strategies in reality”, and insisted that “the main problem now concerns the lack of sufficient production capacity”, rather than questions. around patents.

Valdis Dombrovskis: “We put on the table a concrete EU proposal, how we think we can achieve this goal of global vaccine distribution” © JOHANNA GERON / EPA

The EU, which has exported 250m doses of vaccine versus 25m which the United States has authorized until now, was blind last month when Washington announced turned behind calls for a patent waiver to boost global vaccine production and save lives.

That American approach would allow any producer in the world to make “copycat” vaccines without being cited in the lawsuit for intellectual property infringement. The cause is defended in the WTO by India and South Africa, with the support of numerous other countries including China, Argentina and Indonesia.

But Dombrovskis said there was still “no concrete US proposal on the table and we still have no information coming.” Instead, “we put on the table a concrete EU proposal, as we think we can achieve this goal of spreading global vaccines,” he said.

The EU’s approach, which Brussels will present to the World Trade Organization next week, focuses on three areas. In the documents viewed by the FT, it supports the removal of export restrictions and supports the expansion of production, including through subsidies.

And, thirdly, rather than waiving patents, Brussels believes that there is enough flexibility in existing intellectual property rules, due to the so-called Trips agreement, to allow the necessary licensing.

“Intellectual property is not and should not be an obstacle to equitable access to Covid-19 and therapeutic vaccines during the pandemic,” the documents say. “Limited manufacturing capacity, access to raw materials and other inputs are the main constraints.”

While patent exemptions are a broad waiver of intellectual property protection, the vaccine license allows for the revocation of patents under certain limited conditions.

Employees in biohazard clothing prepare raw materials for RNA messenger, the first step in the production of Covid-19 vaccines, at a BioNTech laboratory in Marburg, Germany

Employees in biohazard clothing prepare raw materials for RNA messenger, the first step in Covid-19 vaccine production, at a BioNTech laboratory in Marburg, Germany © Alex Kraus / Bloomberg

Brussels has always maintained that the debate is over renouncing patents risks becoming a distraction by more productive ways to boost production. The debate is also highly sensitive for the EU, which is home to Covid-19 vaccine manufacturers such as BioNTech.

During WTO discussions earlier this week, the United States said it was ready to engage in detailed negotiations, urging other countries to submit proposals they could approve. The EU plan is set to influence discussions at a WTO meeting focused on intellectual property and Covid to be held June 8-9.

Dombrovskis said that, in the meantime, he urged EU drug companies “to engage in voluntary licensing agreements and to engage in cooperation agreements with producers even in developing countries in order to have additional productive capacity.” .

The EU trade commissioner said the main aim of the plan which would eventually be incubated at the WTO was “to work to ensure universal, equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines and treatments”.

“So far we are the only major producing region that can say with credibility that we have pursued this goal since the beginning of the crisis,” he said.

Referring to other vaccine-producing countries such as the United States, he added: “We are happy to see now that others are starting to recover, but they would need to do so soon.”

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