Special Edition: The WTO Becomes the Nerve Center for Pandemic Response

Story of the week:

The WTO Becomes the Nerve Center for Pandemic Response

In the late evening of the 5th May, here in Geneva, the international trade community was jolted from its end-of-the-day fatigue with the news of the US support to the waiver of intellectual property protection for COVID-19 vaccines. While the news was cheered among the global health community that has long faced the specter of vaccine shortages and rising deaths from COVID-19, it perplexed the trade lawyers. After all, in one stroke, the US had upended its long-entrenched position on the primacy of the protection of intellectual property, in the 25 plus years of the existence of the TRIPS Agreement.

Image credit: Photo by Sebastian Voortman from Pexels


The US move itself is being seen as a culmination of a variety of forces coming together from high level political support from former leaders, Nobel laureates, to entire regiments of civil society activists the world over, pushing for a dialogue on ways to lift barriers due to protections on intellectual property, and on trade secrets, copyrights and others, that have been found to impinge on faster and equitable access to medical products needed to quell the pandemic.


With the US support to the negotiations on the TRIPS Waiver, the World Trade Organization will become the nerve centre of the international response to the pandemic over the coming weeks and months.

TAIL PIECE [circa 2003]:

We asked WTO officials on the significance of this moment in the context of the new support from the US towards negotiations on the waiver proposal, especially in comparison with 2003, which was the last time a waiver was introduced in WTO.



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Geneva Health Files

Geneva Health Files

A newsletter from the capital of global health, reporting on politics, policies and power.