Coalition of MPs urge Trudeau government to support vaccine patent waiver

Click to play video: 'Ng says Canada ‘actively’ participating in negotiations to waive patent protection for COVID-19 vaccines'
Ng says Canada ‘actively’ participating in negotiations to waive patent protection for COVID-19 vaccines
WATCH: Ng says Canada ‘actively’ participating in negotiations to waive patent protection for COVID-19 vaccines – May 6, 2021

A broad coalition of MPs from across Canada’s political spectrum is urging the federal government to voice its support for a temporary waiver to the global rules that guard vaccine trade secrets.

The group — 64 MPs from all five parties and one Conservative senator — has written a letter urging Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to back the proposed waiver in talks at the World Trade Organization.

Trudeau’s government agreed to take part in the talks, but stopped short Friday of voicing support for the measure itself.

“We need to emphasize that these are multilateral discussions with a great number of countries who all have different perspectives,” he said in French when asked if he supports the idea.

“Canada is at the table to help find a solution. We’re not blocking any negotiations; we need to work in the right way to ensure that people around the world will be vaccinated.”

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International Trade Minister Mary Ng also weighed in via a statement Friday.

“Our government firmly believes in the importance of protecting (intellectual property), and recognizes the integral role that industry has played in innovating to develop and deliver life-saving COVID-19 vaccines,” Ng said.

“Since the introduction of the IP waiver proposal, Canada has actively worked with partners to identify barriers to vaccine access — many of which are unrelated to IP, such as supply chain constraints.”

Ng suggested the government supports other methods of expanding access to vaccines, providing $940 million to date to expand access in low- and middle-income countries.

Click to play video: 'U.S. supports proposal to waive vaccine patents to boost supply'
U.S. supports proposal to waive vaccine patents to boost supply

Diana Sarosi, policy and campaigns director for Oxfam Canada, called agreeing to talks a step in the right direction, but assailed the government for its “wait-and-see approach” on intellectual property.

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“Canada continues to prioritize profits over public health,” Sarosi said in a statement.

Supporters of the waiver say it would make it easier for developing countries to import the equipment, expertise and materials needed to make their own vaccines.

The waiver is strongly opposed, however, by the pharmaceutical industry, as well as a number of key world leaders who say it would be counterproductive to current vaccine production efforts and undermine the very business model that gave rise to the vaccines in the first place.

Signatories to the letter to Trudeau include 31 Liberal MPs and 21 from the New Democrats, as well as five Bloc MPs, all three Greens and four Conservatives, including Calgary MP Michelle Rempel Garner and southern Ontario MP Phil McColeman.

“We’re not talking about running shoes or farm equipment — we are talking about a global health crisis, a planetary pandemic, that puts all of us at risk,” NDP MP Don Davies told a news conference.

“I think it’s a fair criticism to say that a number of countries — and I’m sorry to include Canada in this, but I must — have been stalling that process.”

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Click to play video: 'Canadians might be vaccinated ‘sooner than originally anticipated,’ official says'
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Even Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole has joined the fray.

“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 Friday.

The United States surprised many this week when it expressed support for the waiver and promised to sit down at the WTO to take part in text-based negotiations _ a significant step toward a consensus.

But consensus is notoriously difficult to come by at the world trade body, and several prominent members, including Germany and the U.K., stand firmly opposed to the idea of a waiver.

— with Global News files

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