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US Mulls Vaccine IP Waiver as a WTO assembly

The daily flagship foreign policy newsletter with news and analysis from around the world. Fuel for your working day. Delivered on weekdays. Written by Colm Quinn, Foreign Policy newsletter writer.

May 5, 2021, 5:12 a.m.

Here is today's foreign policy mandate: The WTO meets as US Mulls, the a No COVID-19 vaccines, Mexico Train wreck kills at least 24 and Egypt and Turkey Start of normalization talks in Cairo.

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No vaccine to lead the WTO agenda

The General Council of the World Trade Organization, the highest decision-making body in the group, is holding a two-day meeting today. A proposal to forego intellectual property protection for COVID-19 vaccines should be high on the agenda.

The waiver proposal, originally tabled by India and South Africa in October and now supported by around 100 other countries, has stalled for months as rich countries (all of which happen to be vaccine-rich too) have blocked their discussion on WTO trade – Related aspects of the Council on Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).

It also comes at a time of wildly unequal vaccine distribution. As recently pointed out by the head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, one in four people in high-income countries has received a dose; In low-income countries, the proportion is closer to 1 in 500.

The election of Joe Biden as US President has revived the chances of the proposal. During the campaign, Biden said that sharing vaccine technology without considering patent rules is "the only thing human in the world."

Katherine Tai, the U.S. sales representative, held talks with pharmaceutical CEOs and public health advocates last month to find a way forward. However, in a heated internal debate, your office and the rest of the White House are still very excited about their final decision.

Opponents of the exemption say that is insufficient, that IP concerns are not the main barrier to vaccine production right now, and that an exemption would deter pharmaceutical companies from future innovation. They point to more practical problems like scarcity of raw materials and insufficient production capacity than more pressing problems.

Proponents of the exemption say it would unlock additional capacity among manufacturers currently aware of legal issues and force technology transfers that failed voluntary agreements like the WHO's COVID-19 Technology Access Pool (C-TAP).

Whose patents? Proponents of the waiver also say drug companies shouldn't make decisions on vaccine technology and production made possible by massive public investment: Trump administration's Operation Warp Speed ​​pumped $ 18 billion into vaccine production; The CEO of BioNTech, the company that developed the technology behind Pfizer's vaccine, has credited EU research and development funding for its success. and the National Institutes of Health, the United States' medical research agency, have been instrumental in studying the therapeutic effects of mRNA, the basis for many of today's COVID-19 vaccines.

The popular move. For Biden, supporting the Indo-South African proposal or a version of it would also be a popular move: a recent survey by Data for Progress found that 60 percent of Americans were in favor of the waiver.

The doctor's diagnosis. Antony Fauci, Biden's senior medical advisor, added more uncertainty to the White House's final position, saying he was "agnostic" on the matter until 2022 or 2023 during an interview with Mehdi Hasan on MSNBC.

"I tell him people get vaccinated ASAP. If that means getting billions of doses from companies and getting them to people in low- and middle-income countries at a very, very low price, they can afford, do it and do it now, "said Fauci." Because if you want to start technology transfer, you will be giving it to them in a year and a half. My only concern is that I will see to it that people get vaccinated. "However you do this, do it and do it now."

What we are following today

Mexico's train wreck. Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has vowed to punish those responsible for a collapse of the flyover, which caused a train crash and killed at least 24 people in Mexico City on Tuesday. The elevated railway line was built in 2012 and has long been at the center of allegations of corruption and made compromises during construction. The incident also puts pressure on Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard, the former mayor of Mexico City who led much of the railway project, as well as current mayor Claudia Sheinbaum. Both city guides are considered strong candidates to succeed López Obrador when he stepped down in 2024.

Israel's new government. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin begins consultations today to decide who will receive the next attempt at government after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to cobble together a coalition government on his first attempt. Rivlin, who has three days to make his decision, will likely choose Yair Lapid from centrist Yesh Atid. Lapid would face a difficult task forming a coalition as he would have to rely on the support of far-right Likud defectors as well as Arab-Israeli parties.

Turkey and Egypt on the mend. Representatives from Turkey and Egypt are meeting today in Cairo for “exploratory talks”, “about the necessary steps that can lead to the normalization of relations”, according to a joint statement. Relations between the two countries have frayed due to maritime disputes, the civil war in Libya and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's opposition to the 2013 coup that brought Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to power. There were some signs of rapprochement in March when the Turkish government directed the country's Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated media outlets not to criticize the Egyptian president.

Colombia's protest week. Colombian trade unions and civil society groups called for mass marches and a national strike today, a week after protests began against a now-canceled tax reform proposal. The protests have now developed to include calls for a basic income guarantee, the abolition of the riot police and the withdrawal of a proposal for health reform. On Tuesday, President Ivan Duque said he would "create a space to listen to citizens and come up with solutions," reiterating the call for national dialogue he held in 2019 after widespread anti-government protests.

The Biden-Putin summit. US President Joe Biden is expected to hold his first bilateral meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in June. “That is my hope and expectation. We're working on it, ”Biden told reporters on Tuesday. The meeting could take place on either side of the international meetings planned for June: the G7 summit of heads of state and government in London on June 11th and 13th, followed by NATO and the EU-US. Summit on June 14th.

Brexit problems. France has threatened "retaliation" – including the power disruption to Jersey, the largest of the Channel Islands – as tensions over fishing rights between Britain and France mount. Since the post-Brexit trade deal, French fishermen have been angry about delays in the new licenses that have denied them access to British waters – an area they believe is essential for a living.

Although Jersey, a UK dependency, recently allowed 41 French ships to operate near the island, the French government has stated that this permit comes with restrictions that have not been discussed in advance. "That is absolutely unacceptable," said Annick Girardin, the French Minister of the Sea. "If we accept this for Jersey, it would jeopardize our access everywhere."

Germany's right-wing extremist. Germany saw politically motivated violent crimes rise by 20 percent in 2020, with crimes committed by far-right supporters reaching a record high. At the presentation of the data on Tuesday, Federal Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said that right-wing extremists were responsible for more than half of the politically motivated crimes recorded last year. "These numbers are very alarming, especially because a trend has established itself in recent years," said Seehofer. "During the pandemic, we saw further polarization in the political discussion."

A Chinese tour operator is under investigation after allegedly misleading a group of elderly customers. The alleged deception began when tourists signed up for a trip with the promise to visit a "scenic spot" in Chongqing with lunch. Instead, the tour operator took them to a cemetery and gave them a sales pitch on grave sites. Following a customer complaint, the Chongqing Culture and Tourism Development Committee found that the company was not licensed to organize tours and promised to investigate further.

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