U.S. President Joe Biden on Wednesday threw his support behind a proposed World Trade Organization waiver of intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines, bowing to mounting pressure from Democratic lawmakers and more than 100 other countries.
Biden, who had backed a waiver during the 2020 presidential campaign, voiced his support after a speech at the White House.
“Yes, I’m going to talk about that later today, yes,” Biden told reporters in reply to a question about whether he intended to back the waiver.
Biden’s chief trade negotiator, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai, issued a statement shortly after Biden spoke, announcing the Biden administration’s support for the proposed measure, which would temporarily waive certain IP rights to help countries respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This is a global health crisis, and the extraordinary circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures,” Tai said in a statement.
“The Administration believes strongly in intellectual property protections, but in service of ending this pandemic, supports the waiver of those protections for COVID-19 vaccines.”
Tai said the United States would participate in text-based negotiations at the WTO to ensure the waiver could happen, but cautioned those negotiations would take time.
WTO decisions require a consensus of all members.
The United States and several other countries had previously blocked negotiations at the WTO about the waiver proposal led by India and South Africa aimed at helping developing countries to produce COVID-19 vaccines using the IP of pharmaceutical companies.
What has Canada said?
In a series of tweets on Wednesday, Canada’s Trade Minister Mary Ng said the country “looks forward to working with the U.S. on finding solutions to ensure a just and speedy global recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Ng said Canada continues to “work with international partners” and is “actively supporting the WTO’s efforts to accelerate global vaccine production and distribution.”
“Canada has always been, and remains a strong advocate for equitable access to affordable, safe, effective COVID-19 vaccines and medical supplies around the world,” Ng wrote.