Potential WTO TRIPS Waiver and COVID-19



Shayerah I. Akhtar, Ian F. Fergusson | Congressional Research Service

The Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has spurred biopharmaceutical companies to conduct costly and risky research and development (R&D) to develop vaccines and other products to respond to COVID-19. Firms have relied on intellectual property rights (IPR) to commercialize these products. Governments and nonprofits have funded and coordinated some of the underlying R&D. Some groups have voiced concerns over the impact of IPR on affordable access to these products for low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). An active debate is unfolding in the World Trade Organization (WTO) on the role of IPR in the pandemic response. On May 5, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai announced the Biden Administration’s support for the concept of a waiver of the 1995 WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) for COVID-19 vaccines, and pledged to “actively participate in text-based negotiations at the [WTO] to make that happen.” Many consider this notable, given the United States’ history of advancing stronger IPR standards globally. Members of Congress have varying views on the issue.


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