A group of House Republicans sent a letter Tuesday to U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai, saying they oppose requests from a number of foreign countries that want to give up American intellectual property (IP) in regards to the COVID-19 vaccine.
In the letter, spearheaded by Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan and California Rep. Darrell Issa, the lawmakers argue that if the U.S. gives up IP, it will harm innovation and production and result in fewer people getting vaccinated. The group of Republicans wrote the letter in response to a new proposal by 60 developing countries, led by India and South Africa.
The proposal would waive the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) intellectual property rules, which these developing countries believe would increase the number of vaccines being produced.
“The United States should continue to oppose the request by India, South Africa, and other nations to waive certain portions of the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) for all members of the World Trade Organization (WTO). The requested waiver is extraordinarily broad and unnecessary to accomplish the goal of giving as many people as possible access to vaccines and treatments for COVID-19, including in developing countries,” the group wrote in the letter.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi pressed President Joe Biden to support the waiver during a phone call in early May, which White House Press Sec. Jen Psaki has said is an option.
“We have to evaluate whether it’s more effective to manufacture here and provide supply to the world, or the IP waiver is an option,” Psaki said, saying Biden has not yet made a decision on the waiver, The Wall Street Journal reported.
The Republican lawmakers said the waiver would hurt production and undermine the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine.
“Rather, the waiver would undermine the very innovation that has led to the record-breaking rapid development of COVID-19 vaccines already saving lives around the world, and it would not meaningfully improve vaccine availability,” the letter reads.
“The international community should instead focus on overcoming the real obstacles faced by developing countries in accessing vaccines and treatments, which does not require waiving intellectual property (IP) rights,” they added.
In the letter, the lawmakers address several issues with the proposed waiver:
- IP rights are not the bottleneck for worldwide access to COVID-19 vaccines and treatments
- Worldwide access to COVID-19 treatments can be expanded without weakening IP rights
- The requested waiver of IP rights is excessively broad
- The requested waiver of IP rights would harm American innovation, technological leadership, and economic competitiveness
“This danger is particularly acute considering that many of the crucial technological advances made by American businesses and institutions in the fight against COVID-19 were made on the backs of billions of dollars of investment by American companies as well as billions more in American taxpayer money,” the letter says.
The letter was signed by a total of 12 Republicans including Reps. Darrell Issa, Steve Chabot, Louie Gohmert, Matt Gaetz, Mike Johnson, Tom Tiffany, Thomas Massie, Dan Bishop, Michelle Fischbach, Scott Fitzgerald and Cliff Bentz. (RELATED: REPORT: China Uses Private Companies To Process Stolen Data)
“The justification for the waiver rests on an incorrect assumption that IP rights are a significant bottleneck to the widespread availability of COVID-19 vaccines and treatments. The waiver’s sponsors have presented no convincing evidence to support this assertion. Instead, the sponsors mainly just point out that relevant IP rights exist and speculate that those rights could serve as a barrier to access to COVID-19 vaccines and treatments—not that IP rights have actually blocked or significantly hindered their availability,” the letter says.
“If anything, the examples of IP ‘disputes’ cited by the waiver sponsors generally demonstrate that IP rights have not prevented the involved parties from supplying vaccines and other medicines,” they added. (RELATED: US Ramps Up Crackdown On China’s Spying Efforts During Coronavirus)
The waiver is supported by over 100 members of Congress, according to the WSJ. Independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and nine Democratic senators wrote a letter to Biden calling on him to support it.
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