Diplomats from India and South Africa are working together to convince American lawmakers and policymakers on the need to support their proposal before the WTO to temporary waive some of the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) during the COVID-19 emergency. Running against time, because of the gravity of the situation in various countries across the world, including India, the diplomats from the two countries have been making daily rounds of the US Capitol and the corridors of power in Washington DC, mostly virtually, underscoring the point that this is one of the key elements of saving lives.
In addition to the senior diplomats from the two countries, the two ambassadors Taranjt Singh Sandhu from India and Nomaindiya Cathleen Mfeketo from South Africa have been making coordinated efforts to reach out to both lawmakers at the Capitol Hill and policy makers in the Biden administration. On Monday, Sandhu had a virtual meeting with Kenyan Ambassador to the US Lazarus O Amayo. “Discussed issues relating to cooperation in affordable COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics to ensure global public health and strengthen the fight against the pandemic,” Sandhu tweeted. While the Biden administration is yet to make a call on this issue, its top officials have been making a series of intense consultations with various stakeholders including the major producers of COVID-19 vaccines, like Pfizer and Moderna, and heads of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and top business advocacy groups like US Chambers of Commerce.
Readouts issued by the office of US Trade Representatives Katherine Tai over the past one month after her meetings with various stakeholders is a reflection of this. Tai on Monday virtually met with World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Director-General Daren Tang to discuss increasing vaccine production, the role of intellectual property in addressing pandemic issues, the latest USTR readout said. Tai and Tang shared their views on the specific challenges confronting developing countries, and the proposed waiver to certain provisions of the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) for the COVID-19 pandemic, USTR said. WTO is scheduled to hold a meeting on this issue on May 5. Though sympathetic and considerate to the issue raised by India and South Africa, the White House remains undecided whether to ease COVID-19 vaccine patent protections to help bolster production abroad. There hasn’t been a decision or recommendation that’s come yet from USTR, one that’s come to the President, nor has been a decision made. But, our overall objective is to provide as much supply to the global community and do that in a cost-effective manner. And that’s our consideration,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters last week.
However, the massive outreach by India and South Africa has resulted in overwhelming support on the issue by Congressmen. Democrats, in particular, progressive lawmakers have been urging the Biden administration to weaken patent protection on COVID-19 vaccines globally. Last week, more than 100 Congressmen wrote a letter to President Joe Biden, stating that from a global public health perspective, this waiver is vital to ensuring sufficient volume of and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics around the world. The TRIPS waiver is also essential to ensure all global economies, including the US’ economy, can recover from the pandemic and thrive. Simply put, we must make vaccines, testing, and treatments available everywhere if we are going to crush the virus anywhere, the letter said. In their letters to Biden, leadership of India Caucus in both the US House of Representatives and the Senate have called for TRIPS waiver on COVID-19 vaccines. At individual level, lawmakers like Indian-American Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi and Ro Khanna have been very vocal on this issue, as are powerful Democratic Senators like Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar.