Pascal Lamy, a former WTO boss and EU commissioner, lays out his views to Morning Trade on vaccines and the push to waive intellectual property rights.

IP WAIVER PROPOSAL DISTRACTS FROM US VACCINE NATIONALISM, FORMER WTO CHIEF SAYS: Washington’s support for lifting intellectual property protections for coronavirus vaccines could be a smart way to move the spotlight away from American vaccine nationalism, according to former World Trade Organization chief and EU trade commissioner Pascal Lamy.

It is “difficult to assess the impact in the absence of any detailed proposal still to come; [it] could be a clever diplomatic maneuver to distract attention from the U.S. vaccine nationalism so far with a risk to miss addressing the urgent needs above,” Lamy told Morning Trade in an interview, while noting that “time will tell.”

All eyes on Paris: Today the WTO’s current boss, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, will discuss this issue with the World Health Organization’s Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and Lamy at the spring meeting of the Paris Peace Forum, an organization focused on global governance issues, of which Lamy is president. “The No. 1 issue is how to avoid a a looming vaccine North-South apartheid,” Lamy said ahead of the meeting. “We should do everything it takes to avoid it, leaving no stone unturned.”

Advice for Okonjo-Iweala: Okonjo-Iweala has floated an ultra tight deadline of November to oversee a deal on vaccine access. As a former WTO boss himself, Lamy said he approved of her move while warning about the timeline.

Get ready for long talks: “The director-general is right to use the WTO as a convening table where the whole range of solutions to the present vaccine scarcities can be addressed and to lay the ground for a longer term plan,” he said. But if WTO members really decide to renegotiate rules on intellectual property (the so-called TRIPS agreements), things might take a long time, Lamy added.

“Brace for a long and complex negotiation, host of technical and legal issues, devil is in the details,” he warned, while recalling that, as an EU trade commissioner, he “proposed to change the EU’s previous reluctance to support the developing countries’ request for a TRIPs amendment for compulsory import licensing at the end of the 90s” and that “negotiations took roughly three years.”

Lamy’s vaccine strategy: Lamy argued the IP waiver will not be an immediate solution for today’s problems and Brussels should “keep trade open and make its case why it believes a new TRIPS waiver on top of existing ones is not the solution to the present necessities.”

Now: The U.S., EU and U.K. should this year “lift export restrictions for vaccines” and “stop hoarding and redistribute hundreds of millions of doses in surplus,” Lamy said. If intellectual property protection proves to be a real hurdle, existing tools such as compulsory licensing should be triggered, as Bolivia did last week, he argued.

Later: Vaccine production should be ramped up in Africa via tech transfer agreements between big pharma groups and other producers, Lamy said, while calling for negotiations on “a WTO regime for supply chains activation and resilience for medicines in case of global emergency.”

North-South divide: Vaccine inequality is a perfect example of the divide between richer and poorer countries and “of the problems of multilateralism,” according to Justin Vaïsse, director general of the Paris Peace Forum. That is why the issue should be linked to other key questions, such as the environment, Vaïsse said.

African challenge: “How can we ask Southern countries for solidarity, for instance on climate and environmental issues, while we deny an immediate support on vaccines?” Vaïsse told Morning Trade, while adding that the IP issue raises questions in “the whole South, India and Latin American countries.” According to Lamy, the EU should focus in particular on Africa before it’s too late. 

Brussels should “be more forthcoming in taking the lead to organize rapid increased coverage of Africa. An Indian situation in Africa would be catastrophic,” he said.

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