An Open Letter to Trade Ministries and the World Trade Organization (WTO)
April 17, 2020
Dear World Trade Organization Members,
A new coronavirus has caused a COVID-19 pandemic that has spread across nearly all countries. It is currently predicted to infect millions and cause hundreds of thousands of deaths. The World Health Organization (WHO) has called for governments to take a whole-of-government, whole-of-society approach to address this pandemic and refocus their attention on suppressing and controlling COVID-19.
Many governments at the national and subnational level are already doing so. Governments are working around the clock to deal with the health aspects including life-threatening shortages of medical supplies, including medicines, and healthcare workers and preparing for a global economic shock that is more severe than the 2008 global financial crisis. Government officials are being diverted to working on the pandemic, and trade negotiators and key decision makers have already fallen sick with the coronavirus.
Countries do not have enough staff and other resources to deal with just the health aspects of the pandemic. These pressures are especially intense for developing countries. Governments everywhere are facing shortages of essential test kits and other medical supplies, such as personal protective equipment including masks, ventilators, vaccines and medicines. Vaccines and potential medicines to treat COVID-19 are under clinical trial and development and it is not clear whether intellectual property will be a barrier to their supply, access and affordability due to currently applicable obligations under the World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) and free trade agreements.