WTO COVID-19 waiver: does the new draft move the talks forward?

A closer examination—paragraph by paragraph—of the re-draft shows how little has changed and how much may still lie ahead

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED MAY 25, 2021 | UPDATED JULY 24, 2021

The long-awaited revised proposal related to the COVID-19 pandemic, to waive obligations on intellectual property protection, was finally circulated to members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) on May 25.

This will allow the first negotiations to proceed in the WTO’s intellectual property council since the US swung behind the idea of a waiver, if not necessarily in the form proposed. (The council’s official name is the TRIPS Council — for “trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights”.)

A closer examination of the contents shows that a lot may still have to be negotiated. In other words, this is not just about accepting or rejecting the waiver — to waive or not to waive. What is in the text and what is left out are all significant. We can expect some rough times ahead.

Continue reading “WTO COVID-19 waiver: does the new draft move the talks forward?”

One to watch: Bolivia’s bid to import a Canadian COVID-19 vaccine

Multiple tests: Will Canada respond? Is the WTO system too cumbersome? Is this a better route than waiving intellectual property rights?

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED MAY 12, 2021 | UPDATED MAY 12, 2021

News broke late yesterday (May 11, 2021) that a Canadian company, Biolyse Pharma, had agreed to supply Bolivia with 15 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine for COVID-19, without the patent-owner’s permission.

But the deal cannot go ahead until the Canadian government issues a “compulsory licence” for Biolyse Pharma to make the vaccine in Canada and export it to Bolivia.

Although the objective is to get a cheaper version of the vaccine to a developing country — Bolivia — a lot of the focus will be on Canada, which now holds the key.

Continue reading “One to watch: Bolivia’s bid to import a Canadian COVID-19 vaccine”

The proposed COVID-19 intellectual property waiver: too soon to predict

Will the US prevail? What actually lies ahead? How long will it take? And if the waiver is agreed, what impact will it have?

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED MAY 7, 2021 | UPDATED JUNE 5, 2021

It’s tempting to conclude that the proposed waiver on World Trade Organization (WTO) intellectual property rules related to the COVID-19 pandemic will swiftly be agreed now that the US is supporting it.

It’s also tempting to assume that if the waiver is agreed, then intellectual property on vaccines and other COVID-19 products will be freely available and in use around the world.

Neither of those will necessarily happen, and almost certainly not quickly.

Continue reading “The proposed COVID-19 intellectual property waiver: too soon to predict”

India and South Africa pour cold water on alternative approach to WTO talks

On the day she started her term as new WTO chief, Okonjo-Iweala faced a challenge to her vision

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED FEBRUARY 22, 2021 | UPDATED JULY 25, 2021

It’s tempting to call it a bombshell. But the warning signs have been around for some time. Nevertheless a new paper from India and South Africa signals a tough ride for the new head of the World Trade Organization’s ambitions to drive negotiations forward.

The paper criticises negotiations involving only part of the WTO’s membership. They are called “plurilaterals” and are seen as a way of breaking deadlock when consensus is elusive.

Continue reading “India and South Africa pour cold water on alternative approach to WTO talks”

New WTO head’s first statements sail close to the wind

Okonjo-Iweala faces a crash course in WTO diplomacy, a car crash, or a third way. Which will it be?

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED FEBRUARY 18, 2021 | UPDATED MARCH 2, 2021

‘Someone has said that the definition of madness is doing the same thing you’ve done for years.” So remarked Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala shortly after she was accepted as the World Trade Organization’s next director-general on February 15, 2021.

She was speaking in an online press conference, outlining her view of where the WTO might be heading and how she might contribute.

Her first statements shed light on her intentions at the WTO and signal possible delicate times ahead. With some forthright suggestions on issues where members are divided, her approach has risks. (See also her acceptance statement in the WTO General Council.)

Continue reading “New WTO head’s first statements sail close to the wind”

The WTO’s deadlock over an intellectual property waiver for COVID-19

Questions and explanations about why the waiver is proposed, why it’s opposed and what it would mean

Update: In a remarkable turn-around on May 5, 2021, US Trade Representative Katherine Tai announced the US would support the waiver and negotiate based on a proposed text. The press release referred only to COVID-19 vaccines, not other products. Tai said:

This is a global health crisis, and the extraordinary circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures. The Administration believes strongly in intellectual property protection, but in service of ending this pandemic, supports the waiver of those protections for COVID-19 vaccines. We will actively participate in text-based negotiations at the World Trade Organization (WTO) needed to make that happen. Those negotiations will take time given the consensus-based nature of the institution and the complexity of the issues involved.

“The Administration’s aim is to get as many safe and effective vaccines to as many people as fast as possible. As our vaccine supply for the American people is secured, the Administration will continue to ramp up its efforts — working with the private sector and all possible partners — to expand vaccine manufacturing and distribution. It will also work to increase the raw materials needed to produce those vaccines
.”

More:
• After the May 2021 revised draft: WTO COVID-19 waiver: does the new draft move the talks forward?
• After the US announcement: The proposed COVID-19 intellectual property waiver: too soon to predict

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED DECEMBER 17, 2020 | UPDATED JULY 25, 2021

A petition with almost a million signatures was delivered to the World Trade Organization on December 9, 2020, calling for the WTO “to urgently ensure access to lifesaving Covid-19 vaccines, treatments and equipment for everyone in the world”.

We can overlook the fact that the WTO has no power to “ensure” anything of the kind. What the petition aimed to do was to support a proposal to waive WTO intellectual property rules temporarily where related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The delivery was timed for the discussion the following day when members met as the Council for Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (the TRIPS Council). Since then, the proposal has gone nowhere.

Continue reading “The WTO’s deadlock over an intellectual property waiver for COVID-19”

Will ‘Melton Mowbray’ stay protected in the EU after the Brexit transition?

The UK has agreed to keep EU names protected, but what about UK names in the EU?

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED AUGUST 29, 2020 | UPDATED JANUARY 10, 2021

News that Britain wanted to renegotiate a deal struck in the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement on geographical indications — names such as Scotch whisky, Melton Mowbray pies, Cognac and Roquefort cheese — has triggered a discussion about what exactly was agreed, what wasn’t included and why not.

A report in The Guardian (echoing some earler reports) said the EU was “flabbergasted” that the UK wanted to water down the deal on geographical indications. “It’s just not going to happen,” the report quoted an EU official as saying.

Continue reading “Will ‘Melton Mowbray’ stay protected in the EU after the Brexit transition?”

How the WTO deals with problem trade measures—it’s not just dispute settlement

The Appellate Body is in a deep freeze, but those who think it will drag trade into the law of the jungle are in for a surprise

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED DECEMBER 11, 2019 | UPDATED JULY 14, 2021

A very short summary and graphic:
Dispute settlement is not essential (but it helps)

The public discussion of the Appellate Body crisis in the World Trade Organization (WTO) has revealed some fundamental misunderstandings about how governments’ actions on trade are handled in the organisation.

This is important. The WTO is now a quarter of a century old. Its real achievements are hardly noticed. They never hit the headlines.

Instead, the impression we get is that it’s all about the dispute settlement crisis (and previously the struggle to conclude negotiations).

The Appellate Body has been unable to function since December 11, 2019. This has crippled WTO dispute settlement, we’re told, ultimately jeopardising a trading system that’s supposed to be based on rules — rules that can no longer be “enforced” as a result of the crisis.

We’re going to be left with the law of the jungle instead of the rule of law. Just watch and wait. It could be the end of the WTO, we’re told.

We might have to wait an awfully long time, because keeping international trade within agreed rules relies on much more than dispute settlement. In fact a key purpose of the WTO is to keep formal disputes to a minimum, and it does a pretty good job at that.

Continue reading “How the WTO deals with problem trade measures—it’s not just dispute settlement”

A ‘WTO-deal’ Brexit? Video and text

I’d never heard of a ‘WTO-deal’ Brexit — until recently. What does it really mean? And does Brexit change it?

 

video iconAvailable as a video (4’40”) on YouTube

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED JUNE 17, 2019 | UPDATED JUNE 17

“Mr Speaker, can I welcome the Prime Minister ruling out a second referendum, and ruling out revoking article 50 and leaving a WTO — whether managed or not — deal on the table.”

— Kate Hoey MP,
House of Commons, January 21, 2019

A “WTO deal”. The phrase is spin used to camouflage the negativity of calling it “no deal”. But that’s what it is: no deal between the UK and EU.

We can question if “WTO deal” actually means anything in terms of a relationship between the UK and EU.

Usually the phrase refers to deals struck in negotiations within the WTO, as we shall see. That’s why many claim that for Brexit, it’s nonsense. A “WTO-deal” Brexit doesn’t exist.

Let’s be charitable and assume it might exist. If so, what would it mean? Not much. Continue reading “A ‘WTO-deal’ Brexit? Video and text”

‘Do trade deals to escape the WTO.’ So why bother with it? — a presentation

The WTO has become a weapon in a war of words over other issues. For some Brexiters, it’s a deal to look forward to. For some Remainers, it’s a wreckage. For Trump, it’s “unfair”. That’s the worst possible way to get to know the trading system almost all of us rely on

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED FEBRUARY 13, 2019 | UPDATED FEBRUARY 13, 2019

This page is based on a presentation given on February 7, 2019, introducing the basics and current issues in the World Trade Organization (WTO). It includes a link to download a handout of the presentation.

It was part of a contribution to a “Westminster Workshop” on parliamentary oversight of trade agreements organised by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association UK in London, February 6–8, 2019.

Continue reading “‘Do trade deals to escape the WTO.’ So why bother with it? — a presentation”