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Canada will ‘actively’ join talks to lift COVID-19 vaccine patents: minister

Canada’s minister for international trade said Thursday that the country will “actively” participate in negotiations with the World Trade Organization (WTO) to waive intellectual property protection for COVID-19 vaccines.

“Canada will actively participate in negotiations to wave intellectual property protection, particular to COVID-19 vaccines,” Mary Ng told the House of Commons Thursday.

“We’re determined to continue our hard work with WTO members to reach an agreement and to find solutions that will accelerate the production and equitable distribution of vaccines.”

Read more:
U.S. backs waiver on vaccine patents. What it means and what Canada thinks

The statement comes after the U.S. announced Wednesday it will lift patent protections for COVID-19 vaccines to potentially allow international production, a move that could aid developing countries’ vaccination efforts.

Ng had previously said in a series of tweets Wednesday that Canada would be “actively supporting the WTO’s efforts to accelerate global vaccine production and distribution,” but did not mention Canadian involvement in patent negotiations.

The U.S. had previously refused to waive patent protections as its vaccine campaign was ramping up, but U.S. President Joe Biden announced a sudden switch of policy on Wednesday, though he had made the waiver a part of his 2020 presidential campaign platform.

Click to play video: U.S. supports proposal to waive vaccine patents to boost supply

“This is a global health crisis, and the extraordinary circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures,” U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai said in a statement Wednesday.

“The Administration believes strongly in intellectual property protections, but in service of ending this pandemic, supports the waiver of those protections for COVID-19 vaccines.”

The European Union has also expressed willingness to lift intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Thursday.

Around 100 countries, led by India and South Africa, have previously asked fellow WTO members to agree to a time-limited lifting of COVID-19-related intellectual property rights as the virus has spread in developing nations that have been unable to execute strong vaccination campaigns.

Read more:
Canada should ‘join forces’ with U.S. to support waiving COVID-19 vaccine patents: expert

The World Health Organization said in April that of 700 million vaccines administered around the world, only 0.2 per cent had been in low-income countries.

The waiver could open the door for developing countries to manufacture vaccines themselves, but whether they have the ability to do so is unclear.

However, any decision by the WTO has to be agreed upon by all 164 members, and negotiations within the international trade body have historically taken up to months to complete.

— With files from Rachael D’Amore, Reuters, and The Associated Press

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