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Rich countries block COVID-19 drugs rights waiver at WTO | United States News

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Supporters of the waiver say existing intellectual property rules create barriers on access to affordable medicines and vaccines.

Wealthy nations on Friday reiterated their opposition to a proposal to waive intellectual property rules for COVID-19 drugs, three trade sources said, despite pressure to make an exception to improve access to drugs for poorer countries.

Supporters of the waiver say existing intellectual property rules create barriers on access to affordable medicines and vaccines and they want restrictions to be eased, as they were during the AIDS epidemic.

But opposition from the European Union, the United States and some other wealthy nations at a meeting on Friday means the proposal set to go before the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) General Council next month is likely to fail.

“If rich countries prefer profits to life, they will kill it by tying it down in technicalities,” said a delegate supporting the motion who attended the closed-door meeting.

The 164-member WTO body usually has to agree by consensus unless members agree to proceed to a vote, which is exceptional.

A second trade source said developing countries denied that intellectual property rights were creating barriers, saying their suspension “was not only unnecessary but would also undermine the collaborative efforts to fight the pandemic that are already under way”.

Diplomatic missions for the US and the EU in Geneva did not immediately provide a comment.

The proposal was first raised by India and South Africa in October. Since then, China, which has five COVID-19 vaccine candidates in late-stage trials, has voiced its support, as have dozens of other WTO members, mostly from developing countries.

The World Health Organization says it supports tackling barriers to access to COVID-19 medicines, as does Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, selected by a panel to be the WTO’s next director-general.

Lobbying outside the global trade body has also intensified.

This week, more than 100 civil society organisations wrote to EU lawmakers urging them to back the waiver.

French medical charity MSF’s (Doctors Without Borders or Medecins Sans Frontieres) senior legal and policy officer Yuanquiong Hu said recent positive data from COVID-19 vaccine trials by US pharmaceutical firms added to the urgency of the waiver proposal.

“There is a hierarchical model and the poorer countries are being asked to take the leftovers,” she said.



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Biden nominates Iran nuclear deal negotiator to State Department | Politics News

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Wendy Sherman, Joe Biden’s nominee for deputy secretary of state, was key US negotiator of 2015 Iran nuclear accord.

United States President-elect Joe Biden has nominated a key negotiator of the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement to be the US’s next deputy secretary of state, the second-highest position at the State Department.

In a statement on Saturday, Biden unveiled a string of State Department nominees, including longstanding diplomat Wendy Sherman to be deputy secretary of state.

Sherman, a professor and director of the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard University’s Kennedy School, served as under secretary of state for political affairs for four years during Barack Obama’s administration, when Biden was vice president.

“She has successfully rallied the world to strengthen democracy and confront some of the biggest national security challenges of our time, including leading the U.S. negotiating team for the Iran Deal,” the statement said.

Biden, who will be inaugurated on January 20, has promised to return to the accord under which Tehran agreed to curb its nuclear programme in exchange for a lifting of international sanctions.

President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the agreement in 2018 as he pursued a “maximum pressure” strategy against the Iranian government.

The Trump administration has hit Tehran with a wide array of sanctions and tensions between the two countries have increased amid a torrent of hostile rhetoric and actions in the final weeks of the Republican president’s time in office.

In mid-December, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Tehran was not necessarily “excited” for Biden to take office, but that it was “very happy” to see Trump’s presidency end. “We are not very excited with Biden coming, but we are very happy with Trump going,” Rouhani said.

Meanwhile, Biden on Saturday also nominated Victoria Nuland, a retired career foreign service officer who was the top US diplomat for Europe, NATO ambassador and State Department spokeswoman, to be under secretary for political affairs.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a confirmation hearing on Tuesday for Antony Blinken, Biden’s nominee to be secretary of state.



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