Ramaphosa, Patel welcome support for IP waiver on vaccines

6th May 2021 By: Marleny Arnoldi - Deputy Editor Online

President Cyril Ramaphosa has welcomed the US’s decision to support a waiver on certain intellectual property (IP) rights provisions covering Covid-19 vaccines.

During his term as chairperson of the African Union that ended in February this year, Ramaphosa had championed the call for fair access to vaccines to fight the virus.

South Africa, together with India, submitted a proposal for a Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) waiver in October 2020.

The limited and temporary waiver will provide countries with the policy space necessary to collaborate in manufacturing, scaling up and supplying Covid-19 medical products – which are currently in short supply.

Recourse to waivers is provided for in the World Trade Organisation (WTO) legal framework under exceptional circumstances, such as the current global pandemic, and forms part of the WTO legal toolbox.

On May 5, US trade representative Katherine Tai released a statement announcing the Biden-Harris Administration’s support for waiving IP protections for Covid-19 vaccines; and that the US would actively participate in text-based negotiations at the WTO.

The TRIPS waiver is one critical element in the overall toolbox to further boost supplies of vaccines in the shortest possible time. It can enable use of unused manufacturing capacity across the world and speed up the expansion of new production facilities, says the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition (DTIC).

Trade, Industry and Competition Minister Ebrahim Patel looks forward to more developed countries joining the growing consensus on a waiver. 

He notes in a statement issued by DTIC that developing countries should be given opportunities to go beyond contract manufacturing largely confined to ‘fill and finish’ arrangements.

Patel emphasises that South Africa seeks strong partnerships with pharmaceutical companies on know-how and technology as well as further research and development on the African continent.

Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize has coordinated efforts to gain access to vaccines and Science and Innovation Minister Dr Blade Nzimande is working with local scientists and pharmaceutical firms to identify opportunities to use local know-how in the fight against the virus.

“I join President Ramaphosa in warmly welcoming the US announcement today. Truly global, equitable and inclusive solutions will save lives. An integrated world means that we must all take on global responsibilities.

“Covid-19 is a major test of our capacity to prioritise human lives and affirm that the enormous technological and scientific knowledge-base available to humanity will now be deployed to address a critical challenge that affects all nations,” Patel says.  

He adds that Africa cannot remain last in the queue in vaccine rollouts.

The proposed waiver can promote universal, equitable and timely access to life-saving medical products, including vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics. It makes moral, legal and economic sense to pass the waiver, he says.

A study commissioned by the International Chamber of Commerce Research Foundation has found that the global economy stands to lose as much as $9.2-trillion as a result of inequitable access to life-saving medical products.

To date, 76% of the vaccines administered globally have been confined to just ten countries. Africa accounts for only 1.6% of the vaccines administered, according to data collated at John Hopkins University.

Patel says South Africa remains open to engage constructively in the TRIPS waiver negotiations towards finding a mutually acceptable outcome.