February 8, 2022

The World Trade Organisation (WTO) General Council met virtually on 10 January 2022. As we reported in the last Bulletin (November 2021) this was a response to the proposal originally of India and South Africa that the WTO respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, by temporarily suspending WTO intellectual property rules on vaccine monopolies, to enable the production of affordable vaccines in low-income countries.

This temporary waiver on WTO monopoly rules would address the global injustice of vaccination rates of less than 10% in low-income countries compared with 90% in some wealthy countries, such as Australia. A few pharmaceutical companies control the production and price of the vaccines, with rich countries first in line for third booster doses while millions in low-income countries have not received one dose.

WTO Director General, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, called for urgent action.  ‘More than two years have passed since the onset of the pandemic. The emergence of the Omicron variant, which forced us -to postpone our Twelfth Ministerial Conference, reminded us of the risks of allowing large sections of the world to remain unvaccinated. We at the WTO now have to step up urgently to do our part to reach a multilateral resolution on intellectual property and other issues and make our contribution to the global efforts to control COVID-19.’

The waiver is supported by the World Health Organisation and over 100 WTO member governments, but is still being blocked by the European Union (led by Germany) the United Kingdom (UK) and Switzerland, which have large pharmaceutical industries. The Irish Prime Minister supports the waiver, as does the EU Parliament and other EU governments.

WTO General Council Chair, Ambassador Castillo Fernandez, said he would continue to hold consultations with members, underlining ‘the urgency and importance of reaching a meaningful outcome’.

Source: Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network (AFTINET). 11 January 2022,