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EU trade chief pushes for more Covid jab production, not patent waiver


Europe’s trade chief has called for a rapid increase in global vaccine production as the best way to fight the pandemic, arguing ahead of crucial talks next week against a narrow focus on US-backed patent exemptions.

Valdis Dombrovskis told the Financial Times that the EU’s approach had grounded “vaccine response strategies in effect”, insisting that “the main problem now is a lack of sufficient manufacturing capacity”, rather than patent issues.

Valdis Dombrovskis: “We are putting a concrete proposal from the European Union on the table, how do we think we can achieve this goal of rolling out a global vaccine” © JOHANNA GERON / EPA

The European Union issued 250 million doses of vaccine For the 25 million that the United States has allowed so farLast month, he was surprised when Washington announce She has been swinging behind calls to waive patents in order to boost global vaccine production and save lives.

This US approach would allow any manufacturer in the world to make “fake” vaccines without being prosecuted for infringement of intellectual property rights. The case is supported within the WTO by India and South Africa, with support from several other countries including China, Argentina and Indonesia.

But Dombrovskis said that “there is still no concrete proposal from the United States on the table and we have no information that it is coming.” Instead, he said, “We are putting a concrete proposal from the European Union on the table, how do we think we can achieve this goal of rolling out a vaccine globally.”

The EU approach, which Brussels will present to the World Trade Organization next week, focuses on three areas. In documents seen by the Financial Times, it calls for the removal of export restrictions and support for expansion of production, including through subsidies.

And third, rather than ceding patents, Brussels believes that there is sufficient flexibility in existing intellectual property rules, via the so-called Trips Agreement, to allow the necessary licensing procedure.

“Intellectual property is not and should not be an obstacle to equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines and treatments during the pandemic,” the documents say. ‘Limited manufacturing capacity and access to raw materials and other inputs are the main obstacles.’

While waiving patents is a widespread invalidation of intellectual property protection, licensing a vaccine allows for patent overruns under certain restrictive circumstances.

Staff in biohazard suits prepare raw materials for messenger RNA, the first step in production of a Covid-19 vaccine, at the BioNTech laboratory in Marburg, Germany.

Staff in bioprotective suits prepare raw materials for messenger RNA, the first step in production of a Covid-19 vaccine, at the BioNTech laboratory in Marburg, Germany © Alex Kraus/Bloomberg

Brussels has consistently argued that the debate about Patent waivers can become a distraction One of the most productive ways to boost production. The debate is also very sensitive for the European Union, which includes makers of Covid-19 vaccines such as BioNTech.

During World Trade Organization talks earlier this week, the United States said it was ready to engage in detailed negotiations, while urging other countries to come up with proposals they could support. The EU plan aims to influence discussions at the WTO meeting focused on intellectual property and COVID, which will take place from 8-9 June.

In the meantime, Dombrovskis said, he is urging pharmaceutical companies in the European Union to “enter into voluntary licensing arrangements and enter into cooperation agreements with producers also in developing countries to obtain additional manufacturing capacity.”

The EU trade commissioner said the main objective of the plan that will eventually be drawn up at the World Trade Organization is to “work towards ensuring universal and equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines and treatments”.

“So far, we are the only major producing region that can credibly say that we have sought to achieve this goal since the beginning of the crisis,” he said.

Referring to other vaccine-producing countries such as the United States, he added, “We are pleased to see now others are starting to catch up, but they need to do it faster.”



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