By David Lawder
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai said Wednesday that she is pushing for a waiver of intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines because Washington and laboratories have “an obligation to help save the world right now. “
Speaking to the Senate Finance Committee, Tai said he views the talks at the World Trade Organization as a way to drop the intellectual property issue as an obstacle to vaccine production. Last week he backed the talks at the WTO.
After praising the work of US firms in the rapid development and production of safe and effective vaccines, he added that, on the issue of intellectual property, “the message I want to give you is that ‘you can be heroes.’
Several Republican senators criticized Tai for “giving away” US innovations to foreign competitors by supporting negotiations at the WTO.
Tai said he sees the talks less about preventing other countries from “stealing” US technology and more about figuring out how to positively impact people’s lives by ending the coronavirus pandemic.
“What we are trying to achieve is saving lives,” he said, adding that ending the pandemic is a necessary first step for any trade policy to succeed.
“Unless we are able to get the rest of the world economies back on track, there is not going to be a big breakthrough for us in what we do” at the commercial level, Tai said.
Asked by Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren about whether she would support a broader WTO exemption to intellectual property for COVID-19 treatments, therapies, protective equipment and other medical products, Tai said she is currently only focused on increasing access and equity of vaccines.
(Reporting by David Lawder and Daniel Burns; edited in Spanish by Carlos Serrano)