December 3, 2020
The Honourable Mary Ng
Minister of Small Business, Export Promotion and International Trade
The Honourable François-Philippe Champagne
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Dear Ministers Ng and Champagne,
Re: Trade Justice PEI letter supporting proposal by India and South Africa for a “Waiver from certain provisions of the TRIPS Agreement for the prevention, containment, and treatment of Covid-19.”
It is unnecessary to impress upon your ministries the urgency and importance of acting swiftly and broadly to end the COVID 19 pandemic that ravages the world. All effort must be directed towards this end.
In early October India and South Africa asked the World Trade Organization (WTO) to allow all countries to choose to suspend certain patent and other intellectual property (IP) rights related to COVID-19 drugs, vaccines, diagnostics and other technologies for the duration of the pandemic.
By waiving IP rights and allowing for cheaper but just as effective products the WTO, would be taking a positive step in ensuring that COVID-related drugs, vaccines, diagnostics are affordable to all countries.
To that end we are writing to urge the Canadian government to strongly support the proposal from South Africa and India for this vital waiver from certain provisions of the TRIPS Agreement for the prevention, containment and treatment of COVID-19.
This waiver proposal, supported at the WTO by 55 African Nations, India, most nations of the Global South and innumerable civil society organization, originates from the most vulnerable nations whose populations will suffer both the most and the longest if Canada continues voting with the world’s richest countries to oppose the proposal.
The waiver would provide all countries, especially middle and low-income countries, and countries without substantial manufacturing capacity for medicines, with the policy tools required to meet this unprecedented global pandemic.
This waiver proposal is described by Médecins Sans Frontières as a “bold step”, “akin to efforts by governments nearly 20 years ago, which spearheaded the use of affordable generic HIV/AIDS medicines, and, if approved, could signal a major turning point in countries’ response to the pandemic.”
A current example of the damaging effects of IP protections is the case of Gilead, the patent holder on remdesivir, the only drug so far approved specifically to treat COVID-19. Gilead has licensed it in a manner that excludes nearly half of the world’s population from benefiting from price-lowering generic competition for the drug. In June 2020, Gilead announced that remdesivir would be priced at US$2,340 for a five-day treatment course in most countries. This despite the corporation receiving more than $70 million in public funding to develop it. Research shows it can be manufactured for less than $9 per treatment course. Meanwhile shortages for remdesivir have been globally widespread.
We urge governments, especially Canada, to take up leadership of the pandemic response and require that corporate interests serve the population rather than their bottom line. While other measures to ensure equitable global access to vaccines and treatments will surely be required, the TRIPS waiver initiative is vital. There are many other middle and low-income countries on board. We call on the Canadian government to support the proposal and signal our belief in equality in global public health. Recently Prime Minister Trudeau was quoted as advocating “for the equitable access to vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics, because”, he said, “we can’t end the pandemic in Canada without ending it everywhere.”
As Canadians, we need to live these words by supporting the TRIPS waiver initiative.
for Trade Justice PEI
cc: Honourable Wayne Easter, MP Malpeque, Honourable Lawrence MacAulay, MP Cardigan, Robert Morrisey, MP Egmont, Sean Casey, MP Charlottetown
Trade Justice PEI is a coalition of 17 community organizations and labour unions that are concerned about Canada’s current international trade agenda and who believe that it’s time for trade that is more democratic and environmentally sustainable, more supportive of a transition to a carbon neutral economy in which workers receive their fair share of the benefits, and which is more respectful of the rights of Indigenous Peoples. We have existed since 2014.
Atlantic Chapter of the Sierra Club
Canadian Union of Public Employees – PEI
Canadian Union of Postal Workers
Council of Canadians
Citizens’ Alliance of Prince Edward Island
Environmental Coalition of PEI
Guatemala – Maritimes Breaking the Silence Network – PEI
Latin American Mission Program
MacKillop Centre for Social Justice
National Farmers’ Union – Region 1 – District 1
PEI Federation of Labour
PEI Health Coalition
PEI Nurses Union
Save Our Seas and Shores – PEI
PEI Union of Public Sector Employees
United Food and Commercial Workers