New Australian govt urged to back vaccine IP waiver


Denham Sadler
National Affairs Editor

Human rights and medical organisations have urged the new Labor government to back stronger action on vaccine waivers on the world stage in order to improve access for developing nations.

The General Council of the World Trade Organisation will meet later this week, followed by its Ministerial Conference on June 13 to discuss a waiver on intellectual property around Covid-19 medicines.

This was first proposed more than a year ago by South Africa and India as a way to ensure more equitable access to vaccines and treatments for low-income countries, but has stalled following opposition by large pharmaceutical countries and the EU and United Kingdom.

A proposal put forward by the EU covers only a vaccine waiver rather than for all treatments and tests, and also restricts the number of countries that can access it.

A number of organisations, including the Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network, Medecins Sans Frontiers, Oxfam Australia and ActionAid, are now pushing the new Labor government to support the other, more substantial IP waiver and to co-sponsor the movement.

Labor was supportive of the waiver while in Opposition, and had pushed the former Coalition government to do more to advocate for the issue.

There is now a chance for the Australian government to make a difference on the matter, Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network convenor Dr Patricia Ranald said.

“It is a scandal that the WTO has delayed access to Covid-19 medicines for low-income countries because some governments are protecting pharmaceutical monopolies at the expense of human lives,” Dr Ranald said.

“The Labor government must implement its policy to support a comprehensive waiver on monopolies to save millions of lives.”

The new government should step up to the plate and co-sponsor the other IP waiver, ActionAid Australia head of campaigns and policy Katherine Tu said.

“The new Labor government has an opportunity to show leadership and help end vaccine apartheid by supporting a comprehensive waiver. The lives of billions of people depend on it, particularly marginalised groups such as women living in poverty,” Ms Tu said.

The proposal put forward by the EU is “limited and flawed” the organisations said. They have called for the waiver to be applied to all Covid-19 vaccines, tests and treatments, and to apply to all knowledge and transfer rather than just the intellectual property. This would help increase the local production of vaccines in low-income countries.

In October last year, Labor called on the then-Coalition government to co-sponsor the vaccine waiver at the WTO.

“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,” then-Shadow Trade Minister Madeleine King said.

Labor Senator Don Farrell was appointed the new Trade Minister by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese last week.

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