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Swiss open to compromise in Covid vaccine talks at WTO

Woman getting jabbed
Switzerland remains opposed to a full waiver of the intellectual property rights of Covid-19 vaccines and drugs Keystone / Peter Schneider

Switzerland is open to compromise in talks on the intellectual property (IP) rights of Covid-19 vaccines and drugs at the World Trade Organization (WTO), but it remains opposed to a full waiver of those rights, says a senior Swiss diplomat.

Switzerland is one of a handful of WTO members alongside Britain and the European Union opposed to a waiver of IP rights protected by the TRIPS agreement in negotiations at the WTO that began in October 2020.

Proponents and activists are heaping pressure on those hold-out countries ahead of a ministerial conference in Geneva next week and plan to stage protests.

“We remain convinced that the TRIPS waiver will not result in one additional dose of vaccine and may jeopardise existing partnerships that have allowed us to increase production,” Didier Chambovey, Switzerland’s ambassador to the WTO, told reporters on Thursday.

However, he said the Swiss view was not “totally rigid” and that the country was in discussions with others about potentially finding agreement, without giving details of those discussions.

“We are really ready to look into this and to make a step in the direction of the other side,” Chambovey said.

Areas of compromise might involve simplifying the processes for compulsory licences and improving technology transfers, he said.

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‘Real challenge’

Activists say a waiver would help address vaccine inequity, noting that fewer than 7% of people in low-income countries had received a first Covid-19 shot and that supplies remained scarce.

Chambovey described this as a “real challenge” but said that removing patent protection would not solve this. He said difficulties with distribution, unfulfilled dose pledges, vaccine hoarding and poor health infrastructure in developing countries were to blame.

In his view, a more effective route is to use existing flexibilities in the TRIPS agreement that allow governments to issue “compulsory licences” to manufacturers.

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