WTO on last legs after ‘sham’ Covid vaccine deal

WTO on last legs after ‘sham’ Covid vaccine deal

Date: 17 June 2022
Campaigns: Pharma

  • UK condemned for ‘deliberate wrecking tactics’ on behalf of big pharma corporations
  • TRIPS waiver proposal ‘hasn’t just been watered down, it’s been washed away’

Global health campaigners have reacted angrily to the news that the WTO has failed to suspend Covid-19 intellectual property rights at its 12th ministerial conference in Geneva.

After more than 18 months of negotiations, the TRIPS decision announced in Geneva early on Friday morning bears little resemblance to the original proposal, made by India and South Africa and backed by more than 100 governments, to suspend intellectual property on all Covid-19 vaccines, tests and treatments in response to the pandemic.

Campaigners from Global Justice Now say the failure to agree a meaningful suspension of monopoly rights in an unprecedented global health emergency leaves the World Trade Organization itself “on its last legs”.

Tim Bierley, pharma campaign manager at Global Justice Now said:

“This is a sham deal from the WTO. The original idea of an intellectual property waiver hasn’t just been watered down, it’s been washed away. What’s left does precious little to increase access to Covid-19 vaccines, tests and treatments – the whole point of the exercise – and could actually reduce the scope of existing rights to issue emergency licences. It’s a total betrayal of the hopes of people around the world that, two years into the pandemic, Covid-19 medicines might finally start to be distributed equitably.

“The UK’s role in this fiasco has been painstakingly negative. Its deliberate wrecking tactics have played a significant part in preventing an outcome that would genuinely increase global access to Covid medicines. Line by line, Boris Johnson’s government has intervened to ensure that big pharmaceutical firms continue laughing all the way to the bank.(1)

“Countries in the global south have been systematically bullied, excluded and attacked for demanding access to life-saving medicines in these negotiations. They now have little choice but to consider alternative ways to get round pharmaceutical monopoly rules, including outright defiance if required. The WTO’s TRIPS agreement is less than 30 years old, and the world produced numerous extraordinary medicines for decades without it. The catastrophic failure of this summit surely leaves the WTO itself on its last legs.”



1. On the UK’s role, see Third World Network Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues, 16 June 2022, https://twn.my/title2/wto.info/2022/ti220623.htm

Global Justice Now is a UK-based campaigning organisation tackling the root causes of global poverty and inequality, and a member of the People’s Vaccine Alliance.

Photo: WTO/Jay Louvion (CC BY-SA 2.0)