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108 US congress members urge Biden to support India, S Africa on TRIPS waiver

At least 108 members of US congress have written to President Joe Biden calling on him to support a proposal India and South Africa moved at the WTO last October seeking a temporary waiver of Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) – related to Covid-19 vaccines, therapeutics and related technologies.

“This waiver is vital to ensuring sufficient volume of and equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines and therapeutics around the world,” they wrote in the joint letter, adding, “The TRIPS waiver is also essential to ensure all global economies, including the United States’ economy, can recover from the pandemic and thrive.”

The letter was sent to President Biden on Friday. The 108 members of congress – of the House of Representatives – who signed the letter include members of the progressive wing of the Democratic party Pramila Jayapal, Ro Khanna, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib; Brad Sherman, who heads the India Caucus; and Indian American Raja Krishnamoorthi.

The members of congress urged Biden to “reverse” US opposition to the waiver proposal, which was taken under the president Donald Trump, who was in office at the time. The proposal is now backed by more than 100 nations, they pointed out.

“Our goal is straightforward – to speed up the pace of global vaccinations, help the global economy reopen, promote vaccine justice, and increase preparedness for the next pandemic,” they wrote, adding, “Unless countries cooperate and share medical technology, there simply will not be sufficient supply of vaccines, diagnostics, and treatments for many countries – particularly developing countries – to effectively fight Covid-19”.

India and South Africa moved the proposal jointly on October 2, 2020 asking for a waiver that “should continue until widespread vaccination is in place globally, and the majority of the world’s population has developed immunity”.

Pressure has been mounting on Biden to align the United States with India and South Africa. Senator Bernie Sanders and nine other Democratic senators wrote to the president recently “we ask that you prioritise people over pharmaceutical company profits by reversing the Trump position”.

The Biden administration has not taken a decision on the debate. US Trade Representative Katherine Ti, for instance, has raised the issue in virtual meetings recently with CEO and top executives of pharmaceutical companies such as Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.

With Johnson & Johnson vice chairman Joaquin Duato on Friday, for instance, Tai discussed the company’s “experience with production in developing countries, and the proposed waiver”, according to a readout of their meeting.

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