Permanent Mission of the European Union to
the World Trade Organization (WTO)

EU Statements at the WTO General Council, on 18 December 2020

Geneva, 18/12/2020 - 00:00, UNIQUE ID: 201218_38
Local Statements

ITEM 13 TRIP COUNCIL MATTERS

The European Union would like to thank the chair of the TRIPS Council for the work that has been done and is very pleased that the TRIPS Council has been able to agree on the status report, and we look forward to continuing discussions on this important topic next year.

Our exchanges so far have shown that Members agree on the extraordinary challenges that we face as a result of COVID-19, both to protect public health and to limit damage to the real economy. We are united in our commitment to address them, and in our wish to provide universal, equitable, and rapid access to vaccines and treatments.

The European Union has been leading the Coronavirus Global Response for universal access to affordable treatments and vaccination, and the EU is the main contributor to the COVAX Facility (the international initiative to ensure global access to vaccines for COVID-19).

We believe that COVAX is indeed an excellent tool for wealthier countries to provide vaccines for deployment in countries with fewer financial means. And we strongly encourage other WTO Members to help address the remaining financing needs, as underlined in the recent G20 Riyadh Leaders Declaration.

But there is reason for optimism. Over the last days there have been announcements of production and regulatory approvals of new vaccines – and starting deployment. The challenges ahead are still enormous, bearing in mind that the technology behind the vaccines is often new, production has never been attempted on this scale before, and the logistics of storing and distributing medicines at very low temperatures – in one case minus 70 degrees Celsius – are daunting. But we must recognise that there is now a shred of light at the end of the tunnel.

We firmly believe that the multilateral trading system has played an enabling role in the global response to the crisis, and that it can do more. This is the spirit in which the EU and like-minded WTO partners have submitted the proposal for a “Trade and Health Initiative” through which WTO members could agree on a number of actions in response to the current and future crises. Trade policy can help to keep markets open, avoid damaging export restrictions, and adopt facilitation measures.

Of course, the TRIPS Agreement and the principles of the Doha Declaration should also play a role, as they reflect a careful balance between protecting intellectual property on one hand, which is a crucial incentive to innovation, and promoting widespread access to medicines and health care, on the other hand.

We believe that the concerns that have been raised in the discussion in the TRIPS Council can be addressed through the TRIPS Agreement and the flexibilities it offers. Primarily, there is the possibility in TRIPs to grant compulsory licences. It is important to note that this is done by governments without the consent of a patent owner. It also includes the possibility of granting fast-track licences, where no negotiations with a patent holder are required, including for export to countries with no or insufficient manufacturing capacity. These are absolutely legitimate tools for Members in need, and as we are in the midst of this pandemic, I want to be very clear about that.

We have noted carefully the difficulties conveyed by some Members with regard to the implementation of these flexibilities, and we are very ready to discuss ways of overcoming them. Administrative burdens should not stand in the way of manufacturing and delivering vaccines to where they are needed.

But we also have to recognise that the TRIPS approach is delivering results: there has been an unprecedented collaboration over the last months, between governments, pharmaceutical innovators, foundations and researchers.

Vaccines are being approved within 12 months of the first signs of the virus. Normally such a process would have taken 10 years. Only last May reputable scientists were estimating that a lead time of 18 months was the most optimistic scenario for a vaccine to be developed and approved. We are just six months since that time. It has been estimated that over 1000 potential treatments and vaccines are in development. Much of this response, like for example the vaccines based on mRNA technology, builds on knowledge and research capacity that has been developed over many years with the support of intellectual property incentives.

What is most needed now, beyond developing vaccines, is the ramping up of manufacturing capacity, and a seamless flow through by the transport and distribution sectors. The best way of achieving that is by disseminating the technology and know-how of those who developed the vaccines, through collaboration with other companies that can contribute to the developers’ manufacturing capacity. Intellectual property is a key factor in providing a framework that enables this collaboration.

The needed increase of production capacity is already happening, as developers of vaccines are entering into manufacturing agreements with producers, and are expanding global production by transferring their technology to licensees.

No doubt more needs to be done in the weeks and months ahead, but I would note that most private sector companies have either accepted to produce at cost for citizens in developing countries, or licenced production to producers in the developing countries (including notably to producers in the countries that are proposing to waive certain provisions of the TRIPs agreement), or indicated publicly that they do not intend to enforce their IP rights.

In sum, the EU believes that the important and complex issues brought up in the context of the ongoing discussions merit further reflection, as we try to build agreement on the best responses to the pandemic.

In this spirit the European union remains committed to continuing this in an open and comprehensive manner, as we seek to leverage all instruments to provide for a robust, rapid and universal response. Mr. Chairman, we are ready to address these challenges together in a spirit of solidarity and cooperation.

ITEM 9 PROPOSAL ON AGRICULTURE EXPORT PROHIBITIONS OR RESTRICTIONS RELATING TO THE WORLD FOOD PROGRAMME

This European Union thanks Singapore for presenting this proposal and for its efforts and leadership in bringing this important matter forward.

The EU is ready to join consensus on this revised draft decision. We have been supportive all along and we are pleased to be among the co-sponsor.

We support this decision simply because it is the right thing to do.

The impressive list of co-sponsors highlights the unique importance of this issue which unites countries of various positions and situations.

It is a pity that despite efforts by negotiators in the last days, the G-90 are still unable to join as co-sponsors. The EU would hope, however, that they can support this draft decision which ultimately is in the vital interest of their populations.

We ask all Members for constructive engagement on this timely initiative aimed at fighting hunger. We have a chance to make a positive contribution to the life-saving humanitarian work of the WFP.

There is no better time to act than now. Failure to adopt this decision and the WTO membership will have again failed to deliver a tangible contribution to the life-saving humanitarian work of the World Food Programme. A positive outcome on this proposal will be an important contribution by the WTO in fighting hunger around the world and will signal that the WTO continues to be relevant.

 

OTHER BUSINESS

On behalf of all co-sponsors of the proposal for "Procedural Guidelines for WTO Councils and Committees Addressing Trade Concerns", the EU would like to briefly inform Members that we are continuing outreach on the proposal.

We have been receiving useful feedback and would like to bring forward a number of conversations before reverting to this Council. Co-sponsors will therefore continue engaging with Members on their questions and comments and we intend to resume our conversation in this forum at the next opportunity.

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