Nonprofits call on WTO to overthrow ‘vaccine apartheid’ before any meeting


A logo is pictured outside the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Geneva, Switzerland, September 28, 2021. REUTERS / Denis Balibouse

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WASHINGTON, Nov. 24 (Reuters) – More than 130 civil society groups largely from developing countries call on the World Trade Organization to cancel a ministerial conference next week and focus on endorsement instead an intellectual property exemption for COVID-19 vaccines.

The groups, organized under a loose coalition called “Our world is not for sale,” said in a letter Wednesday to WTO members that “vaccine apartheid” caused by WTO intellectual property rules must be resolved first. Otherwise, the meeting “would have no claim of legitimacy”, especially when some ministers might not be able to travel to Geneva, he said.

Group coordinator Deborah James acknowledged a postponement was unlikely, but said some developing countries demand that a waiver trump other WTO priorities, including the fisheries negotiations and agriculture.

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In calling for a postponement, institutions such as Friends of the Earth International, the Global Alliance for Tax Justice and the Confederation of East African Trade Unions went further than a statement earlier this week of 15 more well-known activist groups urging a vaccine exemption deal in Geneva.

Amnesty International, Doctors Without Borders, Human Rights Watch, Public Citizen and 11 others urged US President Joe Biden to personally push countries to waive immunization under the WTO Agreement on Property Rights Aspects International Trade Related International (TRIPS). Read more

“The institution whose rules apply vaccine apartheid is trying, incredibly, to have a meeting under conditions of vaccine apartheid, without having first resolved this apartheid by accepting the TRIPs waiver,” says the coalition’s letter .

“Acting under these circumstances will further erode the legitimacy of the WTO and undermine the credibility of the new Director General, at a time when the credibility of the organization is already at an all-time low.”

The group said that a ministerial meeting is not necessary to approve a waiver and that such a change could be made by the WTO General Council in Geneva.

South Africa and India have made it clear “that without a waiver, there is no result” of the WTO meeting, said coordinator James, director of international programs at the Center for Economic Policy Research in Washington.

“Developing countries are very keen on securing a waiver that will save lives and end the pandemic.”

Officials at the South African and Indian embassies in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A WTO spokesperson could not be reached immediately.

More than 5.4 million people have died of COVID-19 around the world since the first cases were identified in China in December 2019.

Biden reversed the previous US position to approve a waiver in May, a move that surprised some allies, but there has been little progress since then. The European Union, Britain and Switzerland remain opposed, arguing that issuing such waivers would undermine years of investment and research.

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Reporting by David Lawder, additional reporting by Stephanie Ulmer-Nebehay; editing by Grant McCool

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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