U.S. Says It Supports Vaccine Production Waiver, But All WTO Member States Must Agree

U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai said Thursday that the U.S. remains committed to loosening intellectual property rules so COVID-19 vaccines can be produced more widely, the Associated Press reported. But the U.S. cannot "will something into being" without all member states of the World Trade Organization offering their support too, she said.

The Biden administration said in May that it supported waiving the intellectual property rights for COVID vaccines to boost production of the shots. Tai noted that some not included in the discussion about potential vaccine production waivers may have believed that the U.S. had remained silent since announcing its stance, the AP reported.

However, she asserted that work was being done behind the scenes, even if it didn't appear to be from the public vantage point.

"This may be the case of the duck on the pond, where from the outside you think that the duck is just sitting there hanging out, but underneath the surface the duck's legs are going very, very fast." Tai said during a talk at Geneva's Graduate Institute.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

U.S. Trade Rep. Katherine Tai
U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai said Thursday that the U.S. remains committed to loosening intellectual property rules so COVID-19 vaccines can be produced more widely, but all member states of the World Trade Organization must offer their support too. Tai attends a keynote address and conversation hosted by the Graduate Institute's Geneva Trade Platform about the World Trade Organizations important role in the global economy during her visit on October 14 in Geneva. Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images

Tai said the United States and many other countries want to see increased production of vaccines and more equitable access to them. The waiver on COVID-19 vaccines is "something we remain dedicated to," she said while noting that the WTO operates by consensus—meaning all 164 member states must agree.

"While we are making progress collectively, there is still a lot more progress that we need to make," she said.

A Geneva-based trade official said a closed-door meeting of the WTO's TRIPS Council on Wednesday produced "points of convergence" when it comes to a possible response to the pandemic through intellectual property tools.

The council chair, Ambassador Dagfinn Sorli of Norway, said he would aim to use the opportunity to advance toward a consensus when trade ministers from WTO member states meet from November 30 to December 3.

The World Health Organization said that the vast majority of COVID-19 vaccines—largely produced in the U.S., Europe and Asia—have gone to the world's richest countries while developing nations have had relatively little access to them.

Tai promoted the U.S. show of "leadership" in taking the stance in favor of an IP waiver last spring but said all countries need to show leadership on the issue for a waiver to be granted.

"Part of the privilege of being regarded as a leader is that, people are always asking 'where is your leadership?'—so we exercised our leadership in May," she told reporters in Geneva before her talk at the Graduate Institute. "But please remember—right?—that the WTO is a consensus-based organization, so we cannot will something into being."

"You have to work with others, you gotta talk to them and listen to them, and that is what we are doing," she added. "Trust me, none of this is easy...Everybody has got to exercise leadership."

Tai Attends Keynote
U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai said the waiver on COVID-19 vaccines is "something we remain dedicated to." Tai attends a keynote address and conversation hosted by the Graduate Institute's Geneva Trade Platform about the World Trade Organizations important role in the global economy on October 14 in Geneva. Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images