The discussions involve “various different partners who have various different opinions,” Trudeau said, and that his government is “working with others around the world to come up with a solution.”
“We’re engaged wholeheartedly in these discussions on various proposals,” he said at a press conference.
“I can assure you that Canada is not interfering or blocking. Canada is very much working to find a solution that works for everyone.”
Trudeau said he believes the change in the U.S. position will “help us find a solution,” though he offered little clarity on how that “consensus-based solution” would be reached.
Technically, any single country could block a decision at the WTO to agree to a waiver.
“I’d like to emphasize that this work, that the WTO’s job, is to find a consensus and that’s what happening right now,” he said.
“The U.S. has its position, the Europeans have their position, developing countries have other positions on the matter. … We’re working together to solve this problem. That’s how we’ll ensure that people around the world will have access to vaccines as quickly as possible to get through this pandemic.”
His comments follow the news this week that the United States will support a proposal to waive IP protection to help boost the global COVID-19 vaccine supply. The European Union has also said it is willing to discuss the proposal.
More than 100 other countries, led by India and South Africa, have for months been asking richer countries — fellow World Trade Organization (WTO) members — to agree to a temporary lifting of COVID-19-related IP rights.
The goal is to allow nations to produce more vaccines using the formulas and manufacturing techniques that have already been established by pharmaceutical companies leading the global vaccination effort. The companies argue that those leading suppliers should share their knowledge so that more countries can start producing both domestically for their own populations and for the lowest-income nations.
Canada has so far been unwilling to offer firm support for the proposal.
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Canada’s International Trade Minister, Mary Ng, said Friday that Canada was “ready to discuss” an IP waiver for COVID-19 vaccines, but stressed the importance of protecting IP and the integral role industry played in developing the medicines.
She said Canada looks forward to a “speedy resolution” for “all barriers to vaccines, whether it be production or supply chains or export restrictions.”
The co-chair of Canada’s federal COVID-19 vaccine task force described the transfer of technology on Tuesday as “time-consuming.”
“It certainly wouldn’t have gotten us vaccines this year. I don’t think it would’ve gotten us vaccines next year. It is something that’s being looked at, as what I would call a medium-term or long-term solution,” he said during a committee hearing.
This week, a coalition of MPs from across the political spectrum wrote to Trudeau this week to express support for a temporary waiver. Part of the group, which includes 32 Liberal MPs, five Conservatives, 31 New Democrats, three Greens and five Bloc MPs, spoke Friday about the need for the Trudeau government to step up to the plate.
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole also joined the conversation Friday.
“Conservatives support a temporary suspension to intellectual property rules in this pandemic to help get vaccines as quickly around the world as possible,” O’Toole said at a separate press conference.
Experts largely agree the path to approving the waiver could be lengthy and complex. Even once approved, it’s not easily implemented.
Drugmakers have voiced concerns about the latter, arguing the plan is ineffective and that too few countries have the capacity to make more vaccines, even if they knew the formulas.
Some, like Moderna, insist it won’t help boost supply in the short term. Countries in opposition, like Great Britain and Switzerland, argue it would undermine incentives for manufacturers to be as speedy and efficient on life-saving drugs during a future health crisis.
But the U.S. support is largely being seen as a significant step forward in the effort.
The WTO chief said Friday that the U.S. proposal to discuss waiving patent protections on vaccines will intensify talks on the issue and “give impetus” to negotiations.
However, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala told a virtual conference that the trade body aimed to find a “pragmatic solution that assures access to developing countries to deal with vaccine inequity, whilst at the same time making sure we don’t disincentivize research and innovation.”
Experts in Canada are keen to see the country jump on board.
“I think it signals something,” Myra Tawfik, a professor at the University of Windsor and an expert in intellectual property law, told Global News in a previous interview.
“Places like the U.S. and EU — strong patent holders — will recognize that there are times when the intellectual property rights need to be superseded by larger global public interest issues.”
— with files from Reuters and the Canadian Press