The Guardian • Issue #1954



  • The Guardian
  • Issue #1954

Earlier this month, the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), ahead of a World Trade Organisation (WTO) Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) council formal meeting, urged the Australian government to support a call headed by South Africa and India “that would waive some provisions of these intellectual property laws to allow the production of COVID-19 vaccines to be ramped up and made accessible and affordable to all.”

The ACTU stated that “[t]he pandemic has highlighted the world’s stark social and health inequities. It has also shown that no one is safe unless everyone is safe, and that to overcome the pandemic global solidarity and cooperation is required, not greed.” The ACTU was supported in its call by the Australian Council for International Development, the Public Health Association of Australia, Oxfam Australia, and The Salvation Army Australia, among others.

ACTU President Michele O’Neil stated that “Big Pharma are profiting massively while frontline workers and high risk people in developing nations suffer because of outdated intellectual property laws that are no longer fit-for-purpose.

“What’s needed in the face of this pandemic is global solidarity – Australia has a duty to support developing countries to protect their people from this virus and save as many lives as possible. […]

“100 countries around the world support this proposal to suspend intellectual property rights on COVID vaccines. It’s time Australia does too.”

The call comes as Australia has been a player in obstructing the passage of the proposal, which has been tabled since October last year. The state of limbo of the proposal was due in part to Australia’s (among others such as Canada) request for evidence that such a waiver would really facilitate additional vaccine manufacturing and help resolve the current shortages. When the proposal has been brought forward, Australia has blocked the initiative along with several other Western nations.

The proposal was brought back and supported by over eighty other nations – including Kenya, Bolivia, Venezuela, and Mongolia – but was ultimately blocked by the same group of nations who have opposed it.

The split between nations over the proposal highlights the growing inequality between richer and poorer countries. The former group of nations – such as Great Britian, the US, and other EU nations – have large domestic pharmaceutical industries with monopolies over vaccine production, which have been extracting large scale profits during the pandemic. The relaxing of intellectual property rights for the health of millions of disadvantaged peoples – which the proposal only calls to be temporary – seems to be too much for those nations that clearly value profits over lives.

The recent WTO TRIPS meeting is only another example, in an endless list of examples, of capitalism’s exploitation of the pandemic and its inability to solve the crisis. As a result of inaction and greed, millions have died and gotten sick as global economies have gone into freefall, with many losing their jobs and struggling to survive.

It is clear that an alternative is needed. Socialism, more than ever, is required to solve the issues of the pandemic, where the lives and well-being of people are at the centre of policy decisions, not profits.

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