Ramaphosa Tells WTO that TRIPS Waiver Critical to Save Millions of Lives
Ramaphosa Tells WTO that TRIPS Waiver Critical to Save Millions of Lives. Photo: SA News

President Cyril Ramaphosa says passing a time-bound targeted Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) waiver, as proposed by South Africa and India and now supported by many countries around the world, is urgent if the world is to save millions of lives.

Addressing the opening of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Public Forum – under the theme “Trade Beyond COVID-19: Building Resilience” – the statesman said:

“Unequal access to vaccines present a huge risk to a sustained global recovery. The economist intelligence unit estimates that vaccine inequality will come at a cost of some 2.3 trillion dollars to global GDP between 2022 and 2025. We therefore need to reaffirm the principle of global solidarity and the role of open and inclusive multilateralism.”

President Ramaphosa said while there has been some recovery in international trade since the start of the pandemic, it has been uneven. Ramaphosa reminded the forum of the late President Nelson Mandela’s address on the 50th anniversary of the general agreement on tariffs and trade.

Mandela had called for a WTO that recognises the frustrations of ordinary people and emphasised the importance of trade rules and that they should be fair. He said Mandela called for the WTO to contribute to change, rather than defend the existing patterns of production.

The President said the world is at this moment experiencing the debilitating effects of inequality in the patterns of global production:

“While human ingenuity has produced several effective and safe COVID-19 vaccines, human inertia and human self-centredness has severely limited access to these vaccines to many people around the world.”

“Vaccine has turned (BioNTech) CEO into a double digit billionaire” – Oxfam Director, Gabriela Bucher

Oxfam’s Director Gabriela Bucher, echoed the South African president’s messages, without actually mentioning the waiver specifically. She said ‘vaccine monopolies‘, rather than science, were the biggest challenge to defeating the virus, and called out the CEO of BioNTech (which makes the Pfizer vaccine), saying:

“The reality is the current trade rules enable rich country governments and pharmaceutical corporations to work hand in hand to artificially limit vaccine supplies to developing countries. I must appeal to BioNTech – the vaccine has turned your CEO into a double digit billionaire.”

Bucher said that relying on the benevolence and charity of rich nations and big pharma has not delivered. She said it’s time to suspend monopolies and share vaccine blueprints to bring prices down and grant developing countries the ability to produce more #COVID19 vaccines.

President Ramaphosa said: “Our inability to act on the call by President Mandela to change patterns of production, has cost the world millions of lives and has undoubtedly extended the duration of the pandemic.”

He lamented the fact that less than 3% of adults are fully vaccinated in the lowest income countries, compared to almost 60% in high income countries.

“This gross inequality is both unjust and counterproductive. The longer it takes to vaccinate the world’s population the greater the loss of life, the likelier the emergence of new variants and the longer it will take to achieve sufficient population immunity.”

He called on the world to recognise that trade is not an end in itself but a means of raising standards of living, creating employment and improving people’s lives.

“This means that we must ensure that developing economies, and especially the least developed among them, secure a share in the growth in international trade commensurate with the needs of their economic development.”

He emphasised that now more than ever, the world needs a multilateral trading system that promotes inclusive economic growth and development, with the World Trade Organization at its core.

“We must address the asymmetries in existing WTO Agreements that perpetuate trade patterns which confine developing economies to the lower end of global value chains.

The President called on the world to recognise that the WTO is made up of countries at different levels of economic development.

“We believe that the WTO is capable of finding negotiated solutions that are balanced and address the interests of all. Such agreement on issues like the TRIPS waiver is both possible and necessary if the WTO is to live up to the expectations of the ordinary people of which President Mandela spoke.”

The President said through collaboration, unity, solidarity and mutual respect, and through bodies like the World Trade Organisation, the world can rise to these challenges and build a fairer, more prosperous and more resilient world.

Prince Harry says ‘basic human right’

This weekend Prince Harry and his wife Meghan Markle also lent their support to the TRIPS waiver, saying it was time that “ultra-wealthy pharmaceutical companies” shared the vaccine “recipes”. They called the inequality a humanitarian crisis, where “control over a  vaccine that can help save lives should not be solely in the hands of the fortunate few”.

harry and meghan my wife
Prince Harry: “My wife and I believe the way you’re born should not dictate your ability to survive.” Youtube screenshot

Sources include SAnews.gov.za, Oxfam and SAPeople.com