WTO receives petition asking for universally accessible and affordable COVID-19 vaccines

A petition calling for universal access to affordable COVID-19 vaccines was delivered virtually by Avaaz, a global online citizen movement, to the WTO on 9 December 2020. Over 900,000 individuals from around the world have signed the petition, which asks all governments, WTO members and pharmaceutical companies to “ensure access to lifesaving COVID-19 vaccines, treatments and equipment for everyone in the world”.

The petition was submitted ahead of a meeting on 10 December of the Council for Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), where WTO members intend to continue discussions on a proposal to waive certain obligations in the TRIPS Agreement in relation to the prevention, containment or treatment of COVID-19. Considerable differences remain between members over this proposal.

Bernard Kuiten, the WTO’s Head of External Relations, received the petition on behalf of the organization. He expressed his appreciation for the time that Avaaz has dedicated to the issue and thanked the organization for its interest in the WTO and for giving citizens worldwide a global platform to express their concerns. He also said that in order to leave this devastating pandemic behind us, international cooperation and coordination are crucial.

WTO work on COVID-19

Aside from the debate among WTO members on the specific proposal for a waiver to the TRIPS Agreement, the WTO Secretariat has been active in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. This has included gathering information on the range of trade policy responses put in place by governments around the globe and promoting transparency and dialogue on the range of measures taken.

In the area of intellectual property and TRIPS, the WTO has been guided by the letter and spirit of the Doha Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health, which confirmed that the TRIPS Agreement must be framed in the context of making a positive contribution to addressing public health problems. Technical assistance for WTO members has focused on strengthening domestic capacity to assess and implement all policy options open to them.

The WTO has also joined forces with the World Health Organization and the World Intellectual Property Organization to produce an updated edition of “Promoting Access to Medical Technologies and Innovation”. This publication promotes an integrated health, trade and IP approach to the COVID-19 pandemic and looks at collaboration between the three organizations in providing technical assistance and policy support to its member governments.

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