Prime Minister Justin Trudeau listens to speakers appearing by video during a news conference in Ottawa on Tuesday May 4, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Canada agrees to take part in WTO talks to waive patent protections on vaccines

Canada agrees to take part in WTO talks to waive patent protections on vaccines

WASHINGTON — Canada agreed Thursday to join World Trade Organization talks on waiving the rules that protect vaccine trade secrets — a measure drug companies and a number of world leaders say would only slow down production.

International Trade Minister Mary Ng broke the news during question period in the House of Commons, putting Canada more squarely onside with the United States, which made a similar commitment Wednesday.

But it followed a confusing 24-hour window that left unclear whether Canada, despite full-throated expressions of support for the U.S. decision, would be willing to sit down at the negotiating table.

In theory, a waiver to the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, or TRIPS, would make it easier for developing countries to import the expertise, equipment and ingredients necessary to make their own COVID-19 vaccines.

Critics, however, call the idea wrong-headed, citing the glacial pace of WTO talks, the need for a broad consensus, the complexities of vaccine manufacturing and the pharmaceutical business model that helped develop the vaccines in the first place.

“We will actively participate in negotiations to waive intellectual property protection particular to COVID-19 vaccines under the WTO agreement on TRIPS,” Ng said in response to a question from New Democrat Leader Jagmeet Singh.

Ng did not elaborate on whether Canada supports the specific idea of a waiver. She tweeted Wednesday that Canada is “actively supporting the WTO’s efforts to accelerate global vaccine production and distribution.”

“We look forward to working with the US on finding solutions to ensure a just and speedy global recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The One Campaign, a progressive anti-poverty group that has had kind words for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the past, initially called Canada “oddly absent” from the discussion.

But they changed their tune after Ng confirmed plans to take part in the talks.

“I think it caught everybody by surprise, the announcement (Wednesday) in the U.S. … but it’s gratifying and encouraging to see this step,” said Stuart Hickox, director of the group’s Canadian branch.

But Canada could be doing a lot more, Hickox said, including spelling out how it intends to share what will eventually be a surplus of doses.

“No other country has secured as many doses per capita as Canada has; we’re going to be sitting on tens of millions of surplus doses in no time at all,” he said.

“We could be saying right now how we plan to share those back, and it won’t affect our domestic vaccine rollout at all … we’ve ordered more than we can ever use.”

Whether a waiver would have the desired impact also remains an open question, as does whether it will ever see the light of day, given the WTO’s need for a 164-country consensus around the negotiating table.

Bloomberg reported Thursday that German Chancellor Angela Merkel believes a waiver would slow down existing production and undermine the incentives that spur the development of new drug treatments.

Britain and Switzerland are also opposed.

Intellectual property protection “is a crucial element for a thriving life sciences sector,” the pharmaceutical lobby group Innovative Medicines Canada said in a statement.

“The proposed waiver … would be a disappointing step that will create greater uncertainty and unpredictability in the production, quality and availability of COVID-19 vaccines.”

Other medical experts say a waiver would take too long, and the developed world should focus instead on ramping up existing production.

“I think it’s modest compared to the other big things that we need,” Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the school of tropical medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, told MSNBC.

“Loosening the patents is maybe a long-term issue, but it’s not going to address how we vaccinate the world’s low and middle-income countries over the next year or so.”

But Hickox said there’s value in the signal sent by the U.S. and Canada, which drives home one of the universal truths of the COVID-19 pandemic: that it won’t end anywhere until it ends everywhere.

“I really think that the most important part of what happened Wednesday in the U.S., and now we’re seeing in Canada, is that a tone has been set,” he said.

“It was important to say that this isn’t working out the way that it should, that something needed to be done to make sure that more people had access to these doses.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 6, 2021.

James McCarten, The Canadian Press


Just Posted

(Advocate file photo).
Red Deer voters can choose their voting station for fall municipal election

The rules are changing to increase accessibility while improving safety

The border crossing into the United States is seen during the COVID-19 pandemic in Lacolle, Que. on February 12, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
LeBlanc signals some cautious easing of pandemic travel restrictions coming soon

Government has already said it will relax quarantine protocols in early July

This satellite photo provided by Planet Labs Inc. shows the Taishan Nuclear Power Plant in Guangdong province, China on May 8, 2021. The Chinese nuclear power plant near Hong Kong had five broken fuel rods in a reactor but no radioactivity leaked, the government said Wednesday, June 16, 2021, in its first confirmation of the incident that prompted concern over the facility’s safety. (Planet Labs Inc. via AP)
China says nuclear fuel rods damaged, no radiation leak

China Atomic Energy Authority reported the reactor’s ‘containment integrity is maintained’

A commuter pumps gas into their vehicle at a Esso gas station in Toronto on Tuesday, June 15, 2021. Statistics Canada will say this morning how fast prices rose in May compared to the same month one year earlier amid expectations of a hot inflation figure for the second month in a row. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tijana Martin
Annual inflation rate climbs to 3.6 per cent in May

Year-over-year price growth in May was led by rising prices for housing and passenger vehicles

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participates in a plenary session at the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, England on Friday June 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada donating 13M surplus COVID-19 vaccine doses to poor countries

Trudeau says the government will pay for 87 million shots to be distributed to poor countries

Canada’s Cyle Larin (17) scores past Haiti’s Josue Duverger, bottom left, during the second half of a World Cup qualifying soccer match Tuesday, June 15, 2021, in Bridgeview, Ill. (AP Photo/Kamil Krzaczynski)
Canada, Panama, El Salvador advance in World Cup qualifying

Top three nations in the regional finals advance to 32-nation field for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar

Dragon’s Den cast member Arlene Dickinson poses on the red carpet at the 24th Annual Gemini Awards in Calgary on November 14, 2009.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Larry Macdougal
Entrepreneur Arlene Dickinson’s memoir being developed into scripted TV series

Dramatizing the battle to do business ‘ethically and honestly’

Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Jan Rutta (44) celebrates with defenseman Victor Hedman (77) after Rutta scored against the New York Islanders during the third period in Game 2 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup semifinal playoff series Tuesday, June 15, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Kucherov shines, Lightning beat Islanders 4-2 in Game 2

Lightning 4 Islanders 2 (Series tied 2-2) TAMPA, Fla. — Brayden Point… Continue reading

Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant (7) shoots as Milwaukee Bucks guard Pat Connaughton (24) defends during the fourth quarter of Game 5 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series Tuesday, June 15, 2021, in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Durant’s sensational performance sends Nets to 3-2 lead

Nets 114 Bucks 108 (Brooklyn leads series 3-2) NEW YORK (AP) —… Continue reading

New York Yankees starting pitcher Jordan Montgomery throws to a Toronto Blue Jays batter during the first inning of a baseball game, Tuesday, June 15, 2021, in Buffalo, N.Y. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes)
Frazier snaps tie, Yankees come back to beat Blue Jays 6-5

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Clint Frazier snapped an eighth-inning tie with a pinch-hit… Continue reading

The Pornhub website is shown on a computer screen in Toronto on Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020. Pornhub says it has removed all content uploaded by non-verified users. The sex website faced accusations it hosted illegal content. The company, which is owned by Montreal-based Mindgeek, says it has suspended all previously uploaded content that was not created by one of its content partners or members of its Model Program. THE CANADIAN PRESS
International women’s rights advocates call on Canada to hold Pornhub to account

Jeanette Westbrook says being sexually abused as a child will haunt her… Continue reading

Most Read