Australian government urged to co-sponsor COVID-19 vaccine IP waiver

Denham Sadler
National Affairs Editor

The opposition has urged the federal government to take a leading role on the waiver of COVID-19 vaccine-related intellectual property and form a global coalition in support of it, amid reports the negotiations have reached a “deadlock”.

More than 100 countries, led by India and South Africa, have backed calls for a waiver of the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS) in relation to COVID-19 vaccines and medical products.

This would allow for the sharing of vaccine IP to increase the availability and affordability of the vaccine and other medical products in developing countries.

Dan Tehan
Trade Minister Dan Tehan.

The US threw its support behind the TRIPS waiver in May, and after sustained pressure the Australian government confirmed it would be backing the proposal last month.

This was despite international humanitarian organisation Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) head of programs Simon Eccleshall earlier claiming that Australia was “actively stalling negotiations” on the TRIPS waiver.

Reuters reported recently that negotiations have reached a “deadlock”, with a number of countries still resisting the IP waiver.

Trade Minister Dan Tehan has said Australia is “fully engaged” on the issue.

“We want to see this issue resolved. I’m confident that we can if everyone is willing to basically give a little bit because the importance of it is so great,” Mr Tehan said.

“We have to be able to unlock the discussions around the IP waiver, when it comes to vaccines, and we are fully engaged on this and want to see it resolved.”

Shadow trade minister Madeleine King on Wednesday called on Australia to take a leading role at the upcoming meeting of the WTO’s Council for Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property this week.

“Labor is joining with advocates across Australia and the world in calling on Dan Tehan to co-sponsor the COVID-19 vaccine waiver in the WTO,” Ms King said.

“Our global economy will only move through the COVID-19 global pandemic if vaccines are available to all. Vaccine accessibility in both developed and developing nations is imperative for global supply chains to recover.”

Ms King said Mr Tehan and the Coalition should be looking to convince other nations to support the TRIPS waiver.

“If [Prime Minister] Scott Morrison and Dan Tehan want to make a real difference in the final few months of their term of government, they should act diplomatically to build a coalition of support for the TRIPS waiver in the WTO,” she said.

“The Morrison-Joyce government’s focus on announcement instead of doing the whole job is again risking the wider distribution of COVID-19 vaccine technology, particularly in developing nations, to fight the deadly coronavirus.”

The United Kingdom is among the handful of countries which have opposed the IP waiver, with campaign group Global Justice Now labelling this “obscene in moral terms” and “very stupid and short-sighted”.

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