Tentative agreement on vaccines closely mirrors the EU’s compulsory licensing approach and does not include COVID-19 treatments or tests. Image Credit: Unsplash/Mufid Majnun

Washington/Geneva: The United States, European Union, India and South Africa have reached a tentative agreement on key elements of a long-sought limited intellectual property waiver for COVID-19 vaccines, sources familiar with the deal said on Tuesday.

The tentative agreement among the four World Trade Organization members still needs formal approvals from the parties before it can be considered official, the sources said.

It would apply only to patents for COVID-19 vaccines, which would be much more limited in scope than a broad proposed WTO IP waiver backed by the United States, they said.

The tentative agreement closely mirrors the EU’s compulsory licensing approach and does not include COVID-19 treatments or tests, and contained limitations that would likely exclude China from any waiver, one of the sources said.

The text of the agreement was being circulated in Brussels, Washington, Johannesburg and New Delhi, with decisions on the length of the waivers still to be resolved, the source added.

Spokespersons for the WTO and the US Trade Representative’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Politico, which first reported the tentative agreement, said the IP waiver would apply only to countries that exported less than 10 per cent of global vaccine doses in 2021.

The tentative deal comes after months of negotiations over how to accelerate COVID-19 vaccine production in developing countries, where vaccination rates have lagged far behind wealthy countries.

In talks brokered by WTO Director General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the United States, EU, India and South Africa broke away from negotiations with a broader group of countries late last year amid stiff opposition from countries with big pharmaceuticals sectors, including Switzerland and Britain.

“Over the last couple of months, the Commission has been actively engaged in informal discussions with representatives of South Africa, India and the US on the intellectual property element of the WTO response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” a European Commission spokesperson said.

“Consultations are ongoing among these four WTO members. Consultations are also ongoing among EU Member States.”