The UK government has always claimed to be committed to engaging constructively in text-based negotiations on the TRIPS waiver, suggesting it was at least willing to discuss the content of a waiver on intellectual property (IP) for COVID-19 vaccines and other medical tools. However, it is clear from the government's latest statement that this is far from the truth. It seems the UK is committed to obstructing the process and blocking a waiver that has the potential to help protect millions of people around the world from the virus.
The UK government now says it “does not see how text-based negotiations could lead to consensus, solutions, or pragmatic outcomes”, disregarding the calls of over 100 countries for those blocking the waiver to change their position as the pandemic continues to have devastating consequences worldwide. With the claim that many WTO members acknowledge or are convinced that “a TRIPS waiver proposal would not increase the number of vaccines reaching people’s arms”, the UK government ignores the fact that the majority do in fact support the waiver and evidently see it as a viable option for increasing production of vaccines, tests and treatments globally. Many of these countries are the ones most seriously affected by the lack of access to COVID-19 medical tools.
We are very worried about the UK’s stance, especially considering the government’s commitment to “work to convince and persuade” others of its position. This approach is unacceptable and cannot be called constructive engagement. It will only be detrimental to the TRIPS waiver’s progression, which has already been stalled for more than 14 months largely due to ongoing opposition by the UK government.
In a time when only 7% of people in low-income countries have received their first jab and COVAX has delivered less than 700 million of the 2 billion doses it promised by the end of 2021, the TRIPS waiver remains a crucial tool to lift IP barriers and enable countries to produce their own medical tools, such as vaccines. The UK must immediately stop blocking the TRIPS waiver and support low- and middle- income countries to scale up production.