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Health Policy Watch: World Health Assembly Prepares For Show Of Unity On Global COVID-19 Response – But Potential Dispute Over Taiwan

Analysis 15/05/2020 • Elaine Ruth Fletcher The world seems set to make at least a symbolic display of unity in the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic at the upcoming World Health Assembly (WHA), which begins on Monday. The WHO’s 194 member states are expected to overwhelmingly approve a European Union-led Resolution that aims to step up the global COVID-19 response, and ensure equitable access to treatments and future vaccines. But the show is unlikely to go off as smoothly as some might hope, and not only because the 73rd Assembly is meeting for the first time ever in a virtual format.

Open letter asking 37 WTO Members to declare themselves eligible to import medicines manufactured under compulsory license in another country, under 31bis of TRIPS Agreement

Background In 2001, the World Trade Organization (WTO) began negotiations on the rules regarding patents and access to medicine. While several issues were clarified and resolved in the November 2001 “Doha Declaration on TRIPS and Public Health”, the negotiations took nearly two more years to adopt on August 30, 2003, a decision that was a limited “waiver of the export restriction” on medicines and diagnostic tests manufactured under a compulsory license. The final resolution was complicated. Among the controversial features was the definition of an “eligible importing member”, which allowed WTO members to declare themselves ineligible in some cases or in all cases. In 2017, this decision became a formal amendment to the TRIPS agreement. Today 37 members of the WTO are listed as ineligible to import medicines manufactured in another country under a compulsory license, including the governments of Australia, Canada, Iceland, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, United States, and the European Union, including the following member states: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden. On April 7, 2020, more than 30 groups and three dozen experts on health, law and trade sent an open letter to those 37 WTO members, asking that “countries to notify the WTO that they have changed their policy and now considers itself an eligible importing country, and in addition, to also use whatever legal means are available to revoke the opt-out as importing members, for goods manufactured under a compulsory license.”