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Consumer organisations call on EU and US leaders to waive patents on vaccines

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On 3 June, the Trans-Atlantic Consumer Dialogue (TACD), of which Euroconsumers’ member Test Achats sits in the steering committee, sent a letter entitled Urgent call to support a swift and comprehensive WTO TRIPS waiver to European Commission President Von der Leyen and US President Biden. The “Trips waiver” is a proposal to suspend intellectual property protections for products and technologies needed for the fight against COVID-19, including vaccines, for the duration of the pandemic. This would help expand the production of life-saving shots across the world. Today, the transnational organisation has seized the occasion of the EU-US summit to present the letter to major policymakers. Leaders need to realize that the extraordinary threat of the pandemic and the need to save lives require extraordinary action! Euroconsumers would also like to take the opportunity of this initiative to introduce its upcoming commitment to stepping up its work, together with BEUC, on international trade issues. 

New impetus for EU-US talks to include the consumer perspective in trade negotiations

Euroconsumers’ national organisations Test Achats, Altroconsumo and OCU are members of the Trans-Atlantic Consumer Dialogue (TACD). TACD is a forum for US and EU consumer organisations that aims to champion the consumer perspective in political decision-making on both sides of the Atlantic. After several years of slowed bilateral trade initiatives between the US and the EU under the Trump administration, the new political landscape has led the TACD to launch its International Trade Committee. Euroconsumers and its members strongly believe trade policy is a crucial field to pursue and promote consumers’ interests: it sets the standards for the goods and services that originate outside the European Union.

 

The EU should support the US proposal to waive patents on COVID-19 vaccines

Without a stronger commitment from the EU, the bold step from President Biden could lead to nowhere. President Biden’s initiative to waive intellectual property protections for coronavirus vaccines echoes the worldwide rally of supporters of this initiative, which TACD and Euroconsumers also support. A good example of this vast momentum is the recent appeal launched by nearly 400 Members or the European Parliament (MEPs) and of national Parliaments across the EU, together with almost 200 Nobel laureates, 400 global civil society organisations and several other worldwide political personalities to support the waiver. The EU position seems much less ambitious at the moment as the block lacks unanimity. And unanimity among EU governments is needed for the bloc to push for changes to international intellectual property rules. Therefore, Euroconsumers would like to alert EU representatives on the dangers for EU consumers if such rules are not revised. 

Clear rationale for waiving patents on COVID-19 vaccines

Waiving patents would help control the risk of variant outbreaks

If only European citizens are vaccinated, variant outbreaks in other parts of the world could develop in such a way that current vaccines would become no longer effective. Such global inequity is not only a catastrophic moral failure that will lead to needless suffering and loss of life, but would also greatly damage the freedom of movement and health of European citizens. The present example is a perfect way to illustrate why Euroconsumers has decided to strengthen its advocacy capacity at international level, in order to best protect consumer’s interests. 

No one is safe until everybody is safe

Euroconsumers fully supports this initiative of the Trans-Atlantic Consumer Dialogue (TACD). This push for vaccine solidarity cements the Group’s desire for a swift, fair and just return to a world with a strong economic recovery, where everyone is healthy and can move freely. EU citizens will only be safe when the whole world has beaten the disease, which is why we need to share the tools to fight COVID-19 as broadly as we can! Euroconsumers has already worked hard on the EU Digital COVID Certificate to push for fair, clear and equal rules to coordinate the recovery of the citizen’s right to move freely. Such TACD initiative aligns with Euroconsumers’ conviction that for vaccines to be effective, access should be offered to everyone. In that sense, Euroconsumers adheres to the spirit of the letter according to which “No one is safe until everybody is safe”. 

The resilience of our world economy depends upon the waiver

As the letter outlines, the current best-case scenario of wealthy nations being fully vaccinated by 2021 and poor countries largely shut out could cause economic losses exceeding $9 trillion. Euroconsumers believes that, together with BEUC, it is responsible for making this reality widely known across Europe. Our economy is global. It goes without saying that such an impact on the world economy would have strong repercussions on consumers’ wealth and purchasing power. Euroconsumers will therefore continue to monitor similar international policy issues.

Consumers need the pharmaceutical industry to be socially responsible

Unsurprisingly, the pharmaceutical industry disagrees with President Biden’s position on waiving COVID-19 vaccine patents. The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, a drug industry trade group, has described this bold move as “an unprecedented step that will undermine our global response to the pandemic and compromise safety”. The underlying financial economic reasons for such declarations shouldn’t be undervalued: governments worldwide, particularly in the US and the EU, provided billions in upfront payments to the pharmaceutical industry to support the development and production of COVID-19 health technologies. On the other hand, the cost in human lives without such a deal would be huge. If the global production of COVID-19 vaccines remains so limited and the current trend continues, many people in low and middle-income countries around the globe will not have COVID-19 vaccine access until at least 2022, and most of the world’s poorest countries will have to wait until 2024 for mass immunization. The group therefore calls for EU political representatives and pharmaceutical businesses to reconsider their stance and follow the footsteps of President Biden for the sake of all consumers worldwide. 

Euroconsumers is a strong believer of “together we are stronger”

Euroconsumes is fully engaged to team up with other organisations in Europe and worldwide to help make consumers’ voices heard all over the world.. Euroconsumers itself was born after its members realized that a transnational coalition was stronger and more efficient to obtain a positive impact for consumers. Together with BEUC, TACD and Consumers International, Euroconsumers is committed to turn the campaign to waive patents into a decisive success.