(The Canadian Press)

(The Canadian Press)

Trudeau won’t say whether Canada supports patent waiver for COVID-19 vaccines

‘Canada is at the table to help find a solution’

Justin Trudeau stopped well short Friday of endorsing efforts to lift the veil on the trade secrets behind COVID-19 vaccines, insisting instead that Canada is already doing plenty to improve access to doses around the world.

Those efforts include taking earnest part in negotiations at the World Trade Organization about a possible waiver to the rules that protect those secrets, the prime minister told a news conference.

But whether he believes such a step would have the desired effect of rapidly increasing the supply of vaccines in the developing world, Trudeau pointedly refused to say.

“We need to emphasize that these are multilateral discussions with a great number of countries who all have different perspectives,” he said in French when asked if he supports the idea.

“Canada is at the table to help find a solution. We’re not blocking any negotiations; we need to work in the right way to ensure that people around the world will be vaccinated.”

In theory, a waiver to the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, or TRIPS, would make it easier for developing countries to import the expertise, equipment and ingredients necessary to make their own vaccines.

The idea has been gaining steam in recent weeks, winning endorsements from progressive activists, lawmakers and anti-poverty groups around the world.

It got its biggest push to date Wednesday when U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai expressed American support for the idea and committed to text-based talks at the World Trade Organization.

Critics, however, call the idea wrong-headed, citing the glacial pace of WTO talks, the fact all 164 member countries would need to sign off, the complexities of vaccine manufacturing and the importance of the pharmaceutical business model that helped develop the vaccines in the first place.

Ottawa’s position on the proposed waiver has been slow to coalesce.

International Trade Minister Mary Ng initially tweeted Canada’s support for the U.S. decision and promised to work with its closest trading partner, but did not say if Canada would join the talks or advocate for a waiver.

Her promise in the House of Commons the next day committed Canada to sitting down at the negotiating table, but again left out any clues as to what position the government would take.

“We certainly are going to be actively participating in these negotiations,” Ng said Friday, adding that Canada is focused on removing “all barriers” to vaccines, including production problems, supply-chain bottlenecks or export restrictions.

To make that point, Trudeau announced a $375-million cash infusion Friday for a World Health Organization “accelerator” that fosters the development and distribution of COVID-19 tests, therapeutic drugs and vaccines to low- and middle-income countries.

Ng’s statement earlier Friday also made clear that the government “firmly believes in the importance of protecting (intellectual property).”

Diana Sarosi, policy and campaigns director for Oxfam Canada, called it a step in the right direction that Canada has agreed to talks, but assailed the government’s “wait-and-see approach” on intellectual property.

“Canada continues to prioritize profits over public health,” Sarosi said in a statement.

Others in the House of Commons, including members of Trudeau’s own government, are making their position crystal clear.

A broad coalition of parliamentarians from across the political spectrum wrote to Trudeau this week to express support for a temporary waiver. More than 75 MPs and senators had signed on by Friday afternoon.

“We’re not talking about running shoes or farm equipment — we are talking about a global health crisis, a planetary pandemic, that puts all of us at risk,” NDP MP Don Davies told a news conference.

“I think it’s a fair criticism to say that a number of countries — and I’m sorry to include Canada in this, but I must — have been stalling that process.”

Even Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole joined the fray.

“Conservatives support a temporary suspension to intellectual property rules in this pandemic to help get vaccines as quickly around the world as possible,” O’Toole said Friday.

A waiver is strongly opposed by the pharmaceutical industry, as well as a number of key world leaders who say it would be counterproductive to current vaccine production efforts and undermine the very business model that gave rise to the vaccines in the first place.

Others warn that consensus is notoriously difficult to come by at the world trade body — any single country can kill a proposal. Several prominent members, including Germany and the U.K., stand firmly opposed to the idea of a waiver.

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Coronavirus

Just Posted

Rebecca Neudorf and Siddhartha Minhas express the joyful atmosphere of this year’s grad cavalcade. Photo: Bill Metcalfe
PHOTOS AND VIDEO: Nelson grads and proud parents celebrate a community milestone

Saturday’s cavalcade was graced with perfect weather

Forty sled dogs were seized by the BC SPCA from a Salmo kennel in February. A recent ruling has decided the dogs won’t be returned. Photo: Gounsil/Flickr
BC Farm Industry Review Board rules against Salmo kennel after 40 sled dogs seized

Spirit of the North Kennels was also ordered to pay BC SPCA $64,000

Protestors blocking Columbia Avenue Saturday evening. Photo: Betsy Kline
Old growth protesters block Castlegar’s main street for 24 hours

Members of Extinction Rebellion stayed overnight in downtown Castlegar

A bear-proof waste container at Lakeside Park. Not all garbage bins at the park are bear-proof. Photo: Tyler Harper
VIDEO: Bear observed eating from garbage bin in Lakeside Park

The City of Nelson is gradually adding bear-proof bins throughout the city

Nelson and District Chamber of Commerce executive director Tom Thomson. Photo: Tyler Harper
NEWS AND VIEWS: Businesses still need assistance even in a more normal summer

Tom Thomson writes about a new Nelson and District Chamber of Commerce initiative

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participates in a plenary session at the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, England on Friday June 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada donating 13M surplus COVID-19 vaccine doses to poor countries

Trudeau says the government will pay for 87 million shots to be distributed to poor countries

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Premier John Horgan speaks as provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, right, and health minister Adrian Dix look on during a press conference to update on the province’s fall pandemic preparedness plan during a press conference from the press theatre at Legislature in Victoria, Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. officials to provide details on Step 2 of COVID reopening plan Monday

Step 2 could allow for larger gatherings and a resumption of recreational travel

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller is seen during a news conference, Wednesday May 19, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Indigenous child-welfare battle heads to court despite calls for Ottawa to drop cases

Feds are poised to argue against two Canadian Human Rights Tribunal rulings

The Great Ogopogo Bathtub Race has been held in Summerland as a fundraising event. Do you know which Canadian city introduced this sport? (Black Press file photo)
QUIZ: A summer’s day at the water

How much do you know about boats, lakes and water?

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod laughs while playing with Lucky the puppy outside their Chilliwack home on Thursday, June 10, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: B.C. family finds ‘perfect’ puppy with limb difference for 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy has special bond with Lucky the puppy who was also born with limb difference

A million-dollar ticket was sold to an individual in Vernon from the Lotto Max draw Friday, June 11, 2021. (Photo courtesy of BCLC)
Lottery ticket worth $1 million sold in Vernon

One lucky individual holds one of 20 tickets worth $1 million from Friday’s Lotto Max draw

“65 years, I’ve carried the stories in my mind and live it every day,” says Jack Kruger. (Athena Bonneau)
‘Maybe this time they will listen’: Survivor shares stories from B.C. residential school

Jack Kruger, living in Syilx territory, wasn’t surprised by news of 215 children’s remains found on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School

Most Read