President Cyril Ramaphosa today welcomed the decision by the United States to support a waiver on certain intellectual property-rights provisions covering Covid-vaccines. During his term as Chairperson of the African Union that ended in February this year, President Ramaphosa championed the call for fair access to vaccines to fight the virus.

South Africa with India submitted a proposal for a Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Waiver on 2 October 2020. The limited and a temporary Waiver will provide countries with the policy space necessary to collaborate in manufacturing, scaling up and supplying COVID-19 medical products which are currently in short-supply. Recourse to waivers is provided for in the World Trade Organisation (WTO) legal framework under exceptional circumstances such as the current global pandemic and forms part of the WTO legal toolbox.

On 5 May 2021, the United States Trade Representative, Katherine Tai released a statement announcing the Biden-Harris Administration’s support for waiving intellectual property protections for COVID-19 vaccines and that the US will actively participate in text-based negotiations at the WTO. Text based negotiations will enable the WTO Members to engage in good-faith and solution-oriented discussions with a view to achieve a balanced outcome that addresses the interest of all.

The TRIPS Waiver is one critical element in the overall toolbox to further boost supplies of vaccines in the shortest possible time. It can enable utilization of unused manufacturing capacity across the world and speed up expansion of new production facilities.

Following the release of the US statement, the Trade Minister of New Zealand issued a statement via Twitter to welcome and support the Waiver request. South Africa’s Minister of Trade, Industry and Competition, Mr Ebrahim Patel said today that he looks forward to more developed countries joining the growing consensus on a Waiver.

On 30 March 2021, Minister Patel met with the US Trade Representative Ambassador  Katherine Tai during which the rationale for the waiver-request was discussed. On 14 April this year, South Africa’s Trade Minister called at the WTO for a ‘Covid New Deal’ containing a package of measures including the TRIPS Waiver, new partnerships with pharmaceutical companies to boost production and investment in additional manufacturing capacity, transparency in procurement contracts and price restraint, avoidance of vaccine nationalism and measures to reform TRIPS to address future pandemics. He noted that developing countries should be given opportunities to go beyond contract manufacturing largely confined to ‘fill and finish’ arrangements.

Minister Patel emphasised that South Africa seeks strong partnerships with pharmaceutical companies on know-how and technology as well as further research and development on the African continent. Minister of Health Dr Zweli Mkhize has  coordinated efforts to gain access to vaccines and Minister of Science and Innovation Dr Blade Nzimande is working with local scientists and pharmaceutical firms to identify opportunities to use local know-how in the fight against the virus.

“I join President Ramaphosa in warmly welcoming the US announcement today. Truly global, equitable and inclusive solutions will save lives. An integrated world means that we must all take on global responsibilities. Covid-19 is a major test of our capacity to prioritise human lives and affirm that the enormous technological and scientific knowledge-base available to humanity will now be deployed to address a critical challenge that affects all nations. Africa cannot remain last in the queue in vaccine rollouts. The proposed Waiver can promote universal, equitable and timely access to life-saving medical products, including vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics. It makes moral, legal and economic sense to pass the Waiver,” he said.

A study commissioned by the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) Research Foundation has found that the global economy stands to lose as much as US$9.2 trillion as a result of inequitable access to life-saving medical products. To date, 76% of the vaccines administered globally have been confined to just ten countries. Africa accounts for only 1,6% of the vaccines administered, according to data collated at John Hopkins University.

The Waiver proposal is co-sponsored by 60 Members of the WTO and supported by over 100 members of the WTO, 175 Former Heads of State and Nobel Laureates, with a growing number of Members of Parliaments, medical personnel and citizens across the world. In February this year, all the countries in the African Union formally supported the Waiver request.

South Africa remains open to engage constructively in the TRIPS Waiver negotiations towards finding a mutually acceptable outcome.

Sidwell Medupe -Departmental Spokesperson
Tel: (012) 394 1650
Mobile: 079 492 1774
Issued by: The Department of Trade and Industry
Follow us on Twitter: @the_dti

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