298 Public Health, Labor & Other Groups Condemn WTO's Failure to Waive Rules Standing in the Way of COVID Vaccine & Treatment Access

EU, Switzerland, UK & US Criticized for Blocking a Waiver; Governments Urged to Take Action Outside of the WTO

16 June 2022

WASHINGTON, D.C. — As the World Trade Organization’s first ministerial meeting since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic closed without agreement to temporarily waive WTO intellectual property rules standing in the way of global vaccine, test and treatment access, 298 public health and other civil society organizations from dozens of countries condemned the European Union, Switzerland, United Kingdom and United States for their roles in blocking a waiver proposed by South Africa and India and cosponsored by 65 nations.

In the face of the outrageous WTO failure, the groups also called on governments to “act in good faith outside of the WTO’s strictures” to ensure everyone has access to the COVID vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics necessary to save lives and end the pandemic. The groups released a joint statement that includes a list of specific actions governments must take to:

“Pledge not to use the WTO’s and other trade and investment agreements’ dispute mechanisms or other means in an attempt to stop or dissuade countries from producing, distributing or using medical technologies or from sharing information on how to do so regardless of WTO and free trade agreement IP rules;

“Take every step necessary to save lives and end the pandemic, including by fully using the WTO’s existing, albeit limited, flexibilities; and

“Circumvent the WTO’s pharmaceutical monopoly rules when possible and outright defy those rules when needed.”

The groups described the WTO as “broken and dangerously out-of-touch” for being unable to get out of the way of saving lives in the worst health crisis in a generation, much less be relevant to fighting the pandemic.

“Two years into a pandemic that has already killed an estimated 15 million people, the WTO continues to prioritize protecting pharmaceutical monopoly profits over protecting human lives,” said Arthur Stamoulis, executive director of the Trade Justice Education Fund, which helped draft the statement. “Governments that want to prevent the vaccine apartheid that characterized the rollout of first-generation COVID vaccines from being replicated with new COVID treatments and second-generation vaccines will now need to take action outside of the WTO’s intellectual property rules, while also pledging not to initiate trade disputes against other countries for doing so."

The WTO's final Ministerial document includes a no-waiver text that Indian Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal attacked this week as "completely half-baked," also saying, "it will not allow us to make any vaccines. They have no intentions of allowing therapeutics and diagnostics."

Mexican Undersecretary of Prevention and Health Promotion Hugo Lópex-Gatell also said of the text this week: “For almost two years, a handful of rich countries have resisted a life-saving proposal tabled by India and South Africa that could speed up global COVID-19 vaccination, making a mockery of the World Trade Organization. Now, these countries are attempting to stitch up the process in order to put the profits of big pharma over people’s lives… Ahead of these meetings, a damaging new proposal has emerged that is being pushed by the European Union and WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. This proposal would be worse than none at all.”

Signers of today's civil society statement include Public Services International (PSI), People's Health Movement (PHM), African Alliance, Health Justice International (HJI), Oxfam, Amnesty International, Partners in Health, Focus on the Global South, Vaccine Advocacy Resource Group, World Federation of Public Health Associations, Rethink Trade, Public Citizen, International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), Citizens Trade Campaign, Trade Justice Education Fund and others.

Read the statement and full list of signers here. An addendum on "Actions Governments Can Take Now to Save Lives and End the Pandemic" is available here.