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Trade, Industry and Competition on World Trade Organisation landmark agreement

18 Jun 2022

SA Government, local vaccine producers and labour Welcome WTO landmark agreement that will boost vaccine manufacturers in the developing world

The South African government, local vaccine manufacturers and organised labour today welcomed the agreement at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) that can support production of Covid-19 vaccines in developing countries.

The agreement allows governments to authorize local manufacturers to produce vaccines or their ingredients, substances or elements and utilize processes which are covered by patents, without the permission of the patent holders during the pandemic.

South Africa and India first proposed the measures to the WTO, with support of other developing countries during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

We welcome the agreement as a solid and helpful basis to strengthen our joint efforts to develop a strong African vaccine manufacturing capacity. To scale up the production on the continent, further partnerships will be needed including access to know-how and technologies. The unanimous support for the waiver agreement by all WTO countries should lay the basis for such partnerships and give countries greater flexibilities.

South African Ministers Ebrahim Patel and Thoko Didiza noted that the agreement was a step forward in government’s efforts to stimulate African industrialisation and it has the potential to unlock production beyond fill and finish.

“The waiver is one element of a wider set of actions to build both innovation and production capability in South Africa and elsewhere on the continent. South Africa has four vaccine initiatives under way. Our focus now is to ensure we address demand by persuading global procurers for vaccines to source from African producers. This waiver and the other commitments secured at the WTO is also about pandemic preparedness, to enable developing countries to have the legal tools in place to address variants to Covid-19 in future and indeed, to prepare for future pandemics,” Minister Patel said.

Minister Didiza said the agreement was a step forward for African producers. 

Organised labour and business representatives at Nedlac met virtually with the SA Government during the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference and pledged their full support to the efforts by South Africa to secure an agreement. Local vaccine manufacturers Biovac, Afrigen and Aspen PharmaCare welcomed the terms and supported the approach to reach agreement at the WTO. SA’s largest trade union federation, COSATU today also welcomed the agreement. 

"We would like to congratulate the South African government and all related stakeholders in reaching finality and agreement on this important topic. This will be an enabler to all institutions involved in covid 19 vaccine development and manufacture in developing countries to focus on the task at hand unhindered,” Morena Makhoana CEO of South African vaccine producer, Biovac said today. 

“The WTO has reached a significant milestone by waiving intellectual property rights applicable in the manufacturing of vaccines. South Africa’s leading role in this breakthrough agreement is applauded. This will unlock manufacturing capacity on the continent” Professor Petro Terblanche MD of Afrigen, an SA company which has designed and developed the first South  African mRNA vaccine currently being tested said today.

“We note the landmark agreement aimed at supporting the local production of COVID vaccines and in particular as it relates to the African continent. This is a positive step for the diversification of global pharmaceutical supply chains and for manufacturing on the African continent. It  achieves a balance between providing access to COVID vaccines in developing countries within a framework that still rewards much needed innovation by the original patent holders. That this has come through agreement between multilateral parties augurs well for partnership in the pharmaceutical value chain.

Aspen looks forward to continuing to work with its existing and future R&D multinational partners and global institutions to improve access to COVID vaccines within the agreements reached on intellectual property rights with the various multinational partners. We congratulate the South African government for its efforts,” Dr Stavros Nicolaou, Group Senior Executive for Strategic Trade at Africa’s largest pharmaceutical manufacturer, Aspen Pharmacare said 

“COSATU and labour more broadly in South Africa welcome the agreement that has emerged at the WTO. Significant advances have been made in areas that are crucial for public policy in South Africa, including in the overall architecture of the WTO and its ability to respond to development issues. The discussions on the TRIPS agreement were tough but we are happy that what emerged is a basis to go forward with local production,” the Congress of SA Trade Unions (COSATU) said today. 

Issued on behalf of the Minister of Trade, Industry and Competition and the Minister of Agriculture, Rural Development and Land Reform; pharmaceutical producers Biovac, Aspen Pharmacare and Afrigen as well as the Congress of SA Trade Unions.

Enquiries:                                            
Bongani Lukhele
Director: Media Relations 
Tel: 012 394 1643
Cell: 079 5083 457
WhatsApp: 074 2998 512
E-mail: BLukhele@thedtic.gov.za   

Note to Editors: Kindly see background and additional information:  

Intellectual property rights are governed by a treaty managed by the WTO, known as the Trade-related Intellectual Property Rights treaty (TRIPS). The WTO Ministerial Conference agreement identified waivers and flexibilities to the rights of intellectual property (IP) holders.  

The agreement allows developing country manufacturers to export vaccines produced under the terms of the waiver to other developing countries, without the restrictions that apply under the current TRIPS agreement. In addition, it permits the use of certain information available in regulatory dossiers to fast-track generic manufacturing.

The scope of the agreement covers vaccines and requires countries to take a decision on its extension to cover therapeutics and diagnostics used in the fight against Covid-19, within a six-month period.

South Africa and India proposed the waiver of provisions of the TRIPS treaty in October 2020 and built a coalition of support from more than 100 countries. Following months of  stalemate, engagements between South Africa and India with the European Union (EU) and the United States (USA) in recent months led to text-based negotiations in the WTO that provided further momentum to the waiver request and resulted in the adoption of the TRIPS Waiver decision.

The South African delegation at the WTO Conference included two Cabinet members, the Minister of Trade, Industry and Competition Mr Ebrahim Patel and the Minister of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development Ms Thoko Didiza. 

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