Canadian Manufacturing

MPs from across political spectrum urge feds to support WTO’s COVID-19 vaccine waiver

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

May 7, 2021  The Canadian Press

WASHINGTON — 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 of voicing support for the measure itself.

“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,” International Trade Minister Mary Ng said in a statement.

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“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.

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.

“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.

“There is no question that normative intellectual property rights represent a significant potential barrier” to vaccine access in some parts of the world, they write.

“Last July, alongside other world leaders, you wrote that ‘where you live should not determine whether you live,’ but that is exactly what is happening.”

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.

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.