Intellectual Property and the Politics of Public Good in Covid-19: Framing Law, Institutions, and Ideas During TRIPS Waiver Negotiations at the WTO

Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law, Forthcoming

O'Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law Scholarship. (2023). O'Neill Institute Papers. 98.

43 Pages Posted: 20 Sep 2023

See all articles by Sara Fischer

Sara Fischer

Georgetown University

Lucia Vitale

University of California, Santa Cruz

Akinyi Lisa Agutu

Georgetown University Law Center

Matthew Kavanagh

Georgetown University

Date Written: September 18, 2023

Abstract

Context: To facilitate the manufacturing of COVID-19 medical products, in October 2020, India and South Africa proposed a waiver of certain WTO intellectual property (IP) provisions. After 18 months, a narrow agreement that did little for vaccine access passed the ministerial, despite the pandemic's impact on global trade, which the WTO is mandated to safeguard.

Methods: The authors conducted a content analysis of WTO legal texts, key actor statements, media reporting, and the WTO's procedural framework to explore legal, institutional, and ideational explanations for the delay.

Findings: IP waivers are neither legally complex nor unprecedented within WTO law, yet TRIPS waiver negotiations exceeded their mandated 90-day negotiation period by nearly 2 years. Waiver opponents and supporters engaged in escalating strategic framing, which justified and eventually secured political attention at head-of-state level, sidelining other pandemic solutions. The frames deployed discouraged consensus on a meaningful waiver, which ultimately favored the status quo that opponents preferred. WTO institutional design encouraged drawn-out negotiation while limiting legitimate players in debate to trade ministers, empowering narrow interest group politics.

Conclusions: Despite global political attention, the WTO process contributed little to emergency vaccine production, suggesting a pressing need for reforms aimed at more efficient and equitable multilateral processes.

Keywords: WTO, framing, TRIPS waiver, COVID-19, pandemic

JEL Classification: K00, K32

Suggested Citation

Fischer, Sara and Vitale, Lucia and Agutu, Akinyi Lisa and Kavanagh, Matthew, Intellectual Property and the Politics of Public Good in Covid-19: Framing Law, Institutions, and Ideas During TRIPS Waiver Negotiations at the WTO (September 18, 2023). Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law, Forthcoming, O'Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law Scholarship. (2023). O'Neill Institute Papers. 98., Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4575105

Sara Fischer

Georgetown University ( email )

ICC, Suite 681
Washington, DC 20057-1034
United States

Lucia Vitale

University of California, Santa Cruz

1156 High St
Santa Cruz, CA 95064
United States

Akinyi Lisa Agutu

Georgetown University Law Center ( email )

Washington, DC
United States

Matthew Kavanagh (Contact Author)

Georgetown University ( email )

Washington, DC 20057
United States

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