Biden Trade Chief Meets Drugmakers, WTO Vaccine-Waiver Advocates

(Bloomberg) — President Joe Biden’s trade chief met with drugmakers and with groups seeking a waiver for sections of the World Trade Organization’s intellectual-property rules to improve vaccine access for poorer nations.

© Bloomberg Katherine Tai, U.S. trade representative nominee for U.S. President Joe Biden, speaks during a Senate Finance Committee confirmation hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021.

U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai held three separate meetings on Tuesday, according to statements from USTR. One was with civil-society organizations including Public Citizen and Human Rights Watch, and another with labor groups such as the United Steelworkers and American Federation of Teachers. Later, she met with business leaders in PhRMA, the biopharma industry’s lobbying group, and the Biotechnology Innovation Organization, another industry trade group.

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Read More: Arcane WTO Pact Moves to Center of Vaccine Debate: Supply Lines

Tai told the groups that the Biden administration is committed to increasing the production and distribution of vaccines, according to the statements, which didn’t contain any commitment to changing the U.S. stance at the WTO.

At the meeting with business leaders, “the participants shared their views on the challenges with increasing vaccine production and distribution around the world,” the USTR said. Tai “emphasized her commitment to working with other WTO members on a global response to the Covid-19 pandemic, including the role of developing countries in any solution,” it said.

Congressional Democrats, unions and civil-society groups have been lobbying the Biden administration to remove the barrier for production in developing countries.

The U.S. and European Union nations have been among the countries at the WTO standing in the way of a proposal from India and South Africa to waive the intellectual-property rules, leaving poorer countries that sponsored the proposal frustrated and legal protections for vaccines intact.

Read More: Vaccine Pace Runs 2,400% Faster in World’s Wealthiest Countries

Numerous countries and the United Nations have expressed concern about unequal vaccine access. As of last week, 40% of the Covid-19 vaccines administered globally had gone to people in 27 wealthy nations that represent 11% of the global population. Countries making up the least-wealthy 11% have gotten just 1.6% of Covid-19 vaccines administered so far, according to an analysis of data collected by the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker.

(Updates with Tai meeting drugmakers from first paragraph.)

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