Brazil allies with rich countries and access to vaccine turns into crisis – 11/20/2020


If the vaccine against covid-19 starts to become a reality, the dispute for its control gains political dimensions and airs of a new commercial confrontation.

This Friday, the WTO met again to discuss the proposal led by India and South Africa to suspend the intellectual property of all products related to treatment against covid-19. But the rich countries and Brazil refused to accept the idea, opening an impasse.

In total, 99 of the approximately 160 member countries of the entity announced support for the project to suspend the application of patents for products related to covid-19. The goal is to ensure that intellectual property is not an obstacle to the access of billions of people around the world to the vaccine, until there is herd immunity against the virus in the world. International entities, such as the WHO, came out in support of the idea, in addition to social movements and churches around the world.

But, reversing decades of a traditional posture of Brazilian diplomacy, Itamaraty chose to refuse to join the group that suggests the suspension of patents.

Without an agreement, the WTO announced a new meeting for December 10. But, according to diplomats, it is unlikely that there will be a change in the attitude of governments until then.

The argument of rich countries and Brazil is that suspending patents could affect the incentives that their pharmaceutical companies would have to invest in innovations. Today, the three big promises of vaccines against covid-19 come from companies based in Europe or the USA. In the negotiations for the sale of products, none of them gave up their patents.

Without patents, the idea is that countries could expand the production of generics or reduce the payment of royalties to these companies. In addition, the favorable conditions being negotiated are only valid for a period of pandemic. In the case of Brazil, the agreement with AstraZeneca reveals that it is the company that has the power to declare when this pandemic period ends.

For Itamaraty, the trade rules on intellectual property – known as TRIPS – already allow sufficient flexibility so that, in case of need, governments may request the breaking of patents. In the 1990s and early 21st century, Brazil led the global movement for fairer access to AIDS treatment.

In the case of Brazil and the rich countries, the order at today’s meeting was to strongly oppose the proposal, noting that there is no indication that intellectual property rights have been a real barrier to access to drugs and technologies related to COVID -19.

Brazil questions proposal and warns that it would not be a global solution

In the case of Brazil, after asking for clarifications, the Foreign Ministry returned to using the meeting to request new explanations from the emerging countries. The government questions why there would be a suspension of copyright or industrial designs.

Brazil also questioned whether the proposal would really be the fastest way to access products, since such measures would need to pass through national parliaments.

“In this scenario, the use of TRIPS flexibilities, such as mandatory licenses, could be a quick way to access vital supplies of medicines and therapies related to COVID-19”, defended the Foreign Ministry.

The government also made it clear that suspending patents would not be a global solution. “A suspension would hardly be a global solution if we consider that several members may not implement it,” he warned. This is because they choose not to follow the path or because of legislative difficulties. The refusal to suspend patents could still be linked to obligations that these governments would have under bilateral or regional agreements.

For Brazil, the strategy must be different. “We would like to reiterate our opinion that TRIPS flexibilities, among other instruments at the disposal of member states, such as international collaboration and voluntary licensing, could and should be used to increase the production of medical products and ensure a sufficient and accessible “, defended the government.

Itamaraty suggested to emerging countries that these routes be explored to “achieve their health policy objectives”.

Rich countries say it is not patents that prevent access

The United States, the European Union, Japan, Canada and Switzerland have recognized that the sustained and continuous supply of such drugs and technologies is a difficult task. But they warned that inefficient and resource-poor healthcare and purchasing systems, demand and a lack of manufacturing capacity are much more likely to prevent access to these materials than patents.

For rich countries, suspension of patents, even for a limited period of time, was not only unnecessary, but would also hamper collaborative efforts to combat the pandemic that are already underway.


The authors of the proposal – India, South Africa and Kenya – warned that the pandemic requires quick access to affordable medical products, such as diagnostic kits, medical masks, other personal protective equipment and ventilators, as well as vaccines and medicines.

For him, the outbreak led to a rapid increase in global demand, with many countries facing shortages, limiting their ability to respond effectively to the outbreak. According to the group, as new diagnostics, therapies and vaccines for COVID-19 are developed, significant concerns remain about how they will be made available quickly, in sufficient quantities and at affordable prices to satisfy global demand.

The defense of the emerging countries was that the WTO must act to defeat the pandemic and that governments should take collective responsibility and put people’s lives above anything else.

“As guardians of the world trade order, I believe that nobody would want to be known for saving fish, but not human lives,” said Pakistan.

Another group of members, including China, Ukraine, Chile, Ecuador, Mexico, Turkey and El Salvador, applauded the proposal, but said they were still studying its details and asked for clarification on certain points.

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