France welcomes US-backed plan to waive Covid vaccine patents
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French President Emmanuel Macron has said he was "absolutely in favour" of a global waiver, backed by US President Joe Biden, to remove patent protections for Covid-19 vaccines. The African Union hailed the proposal as "remarkable", while the European Union said it was "ready to discuss".
Emmanuel Macron's statement marked a shift for France, which had previously opposed such a move as likely to discourage innovation and argued that patents should be waived only as a last resort.
No French pharmaceutical company has managed to develop an approved Covid-19 vaccine so far.
Meanwhile, the Africa Union health watchdog praised the US support for the waiver as a "remarkable expression of leadership" at a time when poor countries are struggling to get enough vaccine doses.
"History will remember the move taken by the US government as doing the right thing at the right time to fight a terrible challenge which is unprecedented in our contemporary history," Dr John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), told a press conference.
US Trade Representative Katherine Tai said while intellectual property rights for businesses are important, Washington "supports the waiver of those protections for Covid-19 vaccines".
"This is a global health crisis, and the extraordinary circumstances of the Covid-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures," she said in a statement.
President Biden had been under intense pressure from world leaders to agree to waive protections for vaccine manufacturers in order to ramp up production and get the jabs out to more countries as rich nations have swept up the majority of the doses.
The United States will participate in the negotiations within the World Trade Organization (WTO) but cautioned that discussions "will take time given the consensus-based nature of the institution and the complexity of the issues involved", according to Tai.
Following the announcement, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said EU was "ready to discuss" the US proposal in order to speed up vaccine production and distribution.
Calls led by India, South Africa
The global trade body has been facing calls led by India and South Africa since October 2020 to temporarily remove the intellectual property protections on Covid-19 vaccines, in a move proponents say would help boost production in developing countries that so far have received far fewer jabs.
But that notion has until now met fierce opposition from pharmaceutical giants and their host countries, which insist the patents are not the main roadblocks to scaling up production, and warn the move could hamper innovation.
WTO chief Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has been pressing for an international agreement to provide at least a temporary patent waiver.
"We need to have a sense of urgency on how we approach this issue of response to Covid-19 because the world is watching," she said earlier Wednesday, describing equitable access to the tools to fight the pandemic as the "moral and economic issue of our time."
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