fbpx

Australia shifts position to back TRIPS waiver as public pressure mounts

Sep 28, 2021

As Australia’s COVID-19 vaccination rates begin to climb, access to life-saving vaccinations remains markedly unequal across the globe. Thanks to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), rights to produce COVID-19 vaccines and treatments are exclusively in the hands of a few multi-billionaire pharmaceutical companies for the next twenty years, effectively limiting vaccine production and creating global vaccine scarcity. This is despite the huge public funds provided by governments for the development of those vaccines. As a consequence, many lower income countries are looking at years before they can get their people fully vaccinated. In an August 2021 editorial, the British Medical Journal has suggested the vaccine monopoly is a “crime against humanity”.

In October 2020 India and South Africa — two of the world’s largest producers of generic medicines — responded to this gross public health injustice with a formal proposal for the WTO to temporarily waive certain provisions of the TRIPS agreement. Under the proposal, global vaccine manufacturing capabilities would be boosted by allowing COVID-19 vaccines and medical tools to be produced on a regional basis. Over 100 countries quickly pledged their support for the proposal, but Australia was not among them.

The power of cross-organisation collaboration

As the Australian Government remained silent on the waiver, a coalition of unions and civil society organisations sprang into action. Together with the Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network (AFTINET), the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), Friends of the Earth, Amnesty International Australia, Public Services International among others, Union Aid Abroad – APHEDA has been campaigning for a TRIPS Waiver. This has included commissioning an independent Essential Media poll that showed 62% of Australians supported the TRIPS waiver proposal. Support was spread similarly across Coalition, Labor, and Greens voters, and our coalition knew we had to act fast to build on public pressure.

In the following weeks over 50,000 people signed petitions urging the Australian Government to back the waiver at the WTO, including 12,000 ACTU and APHEDA members who signed onto our joint Megaphone petition. Thousands more emailed their MPs and urged them to encourage Federal Trade Minister Dan Tehan to declare Australian support of the waiver. Huge thanks to all those who supported this action!

In September our campaign had a win: Minister Tehan finally announced that Australia would put people over profits and support the TRIPS waiver at the WTO.

Next steps toward a pandemic-free future

Though the civil society coalition welcomed the announcement from Minister Tehan, we recognise that much still needs to be done to put the commitment into action. As the example of the US, who have publicly indicated support for the TRIPS waiver only to play a passive role in actual negotiations, shows: public support alone is not enough. Australia must take concrete steps toward ensuring the waiver passes, including becoming a formal sponsor of the waiver proposal and encouraging those still blocking — including Germany and Japan — to reverse course for the sake of humanity.

Alongside the ACTU, Amnesty International Australia, AFTINET, Actionaid, Public Services International (PSI), and SumOfUs, we’re calling on Minister Tehan to work with other supportive countries and play an active role in ensuring the passage of the TRIPS waiver. It’s a critical way to boost vaccine production at this critical time and make access to life-saving COVID-19 vaccines and medical tools easier and fairer for all and limit the chance of dangerous variants emerging for years to come. Let’s keep up the pressure.

Though the civil society coalition welcomed the announcement from Minister Tehan, we recognise that much still needs to be done to put the commitment into action. As the example of the US, who have publicly indicated support for the TRIPS waiver only to play a passive role in actual negotiations, shows: public support alone is not enough. Australia must take concrete steps toward ensuring the waiver passes, including becoming a formal sponsor of the waiver proposal and encouraging those still blocking — including Germany and Japan — to reverse course for the sake of humanity.

Alongside the ACTU, Amnesty International Australia, AFTINET, Actionaid, Public Services International (PSI), and SumOfUs, we’re calling on Minister Tehan to work with other supportive countries and play an active role in ensuring the passage of the TRIPS waiver. It’s a critical way to boost vaccine production at this critical time and make access to life-saving COVID-19 vaccines and medical tools easier and fairer for all and limit the chance of dangerous variants emerging for years to come. Let’s keep up the pressure!

Take Action!

Email Federal Trade Minister Dan Tehan today and urge him to end the vaccine monopoly by working with other supportive countries to ensure the passage of the TRIPS waiver.

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.

You have Successfully Subscribed!