WTO General Council: UK statements

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Item 5 – MC12

Thank you, Chair. The UK would like to join others in thanking Kazakhstan for its continued willingness to host the next Ministerial Conference. While the United Kingdom is willing to be flexible on the date and venue regarding MC12, we believe our collective priority should be to agree the dates as quickly as possible, so that Members can focus on the substance of negotiations. Some Members here today have suggested pushing the date back to December, and we could support that.

When we have agreed a date, we should turn our attention to building in milestones on the way to MC12 where decisions could be taken to facilitate an ambitious conference. The UK looks forward to working with all WTO Members in order to achieve this.

Thank you, Chair.

Item 6 – Work Programme on Electronic Commerce

Thank you Chair, and my thanks to the Goods, Services, and TRIPS Council chairs, for their updates.

On the moratorium on imposing customs duties on electronic transmissions, the United Kingdom is a strong supporter. The moratorium is the WTO’s most significant contribution to digital trade, and we believe it should be made permanent.

As we have heard today, members continue to hold a wide range of views on the impact, and desirability, of the moratorium. The Work Programme on E-Commerce has a continuing and important role to play, in providing members with a forum in which to air those different opinions, as well as offering the opportunity to better understand the viewpoints of others.
It is already clear that e-commerce has played an essential role during this pandemic, in keeping commerce flowing and saving jobs. Digital trade – along with the capacities, policies, and infrastructure that support it – also offers one of the brightest opportunities, to revive international trade and prosperity, as we seek to build back better after this global crisis.

This is another reason why the UK believes the success of the JSI on e-commerce is so important, for developing and developed members alike. Thank you, Chair.

Thank you, Chair. The United Kingdom strongly supports this initiative, and we warmly thank its proponents and the Ottawa Group for their leadership on this issue.

Keeping trade moving, particularly trade in critical health goods, is one of the most important ways in which the global trading system, and the WTO, can meaningfully respond to this pandemic, and to show to our citizens that we are helping.

Firstly, Chair, let me address Tariffs. We very much agree, that the removal of tariffs is an essential step, to reduce costs and increase trade in the most essential goods for tackling the COVID-19 pandemic. We strongly support the Ottawa Group’s call, within the proposal presented today, for such tariffs to be removed.

The UK’s new MFN tariffs enter into force on 1 January, following our departure from the European Union’s Customs Union. As one of the world’s top five importers and exporters of medical goods, we have therefore looked carefully at how we could use this moment, to help lead the way in terms of putting this proposal into practice.

So I’m delighted to be able to announce that, from 1 January next year, almost all pharmaceuticals, including vaccines, and most medical devices, including ventilators, will enter the UK tariff free. That includes gloves, protective equipment, thermometers and other COVID-critical products. We will also suspend all tariffs on all the products on the WHO’s list of COVID-19 critical goods. These suspensions will be for 12 months duration, and subject to ongoing reviews.

Now, Chair, let me turn to Export Restrictions. The UK also strongly supports the disciplines on export restrictions in this Communication. We have today published a list of all of our export restrictions on our central government website. This makes clear the approach we will take to limiting our restrictions, and underlines that we will be applying all the measures, in this proposal, in a fully transparent way. Finally, we look forward to working with all of you here to implement this proposal, and we hope that others will join us in cutting their tariffs to support it. The role that trade can and must play in combatting this pandemic, and helping the world build back better, will also be a central priority for our G7 Presidency next year.

Thank you, Chair.

Item 13B – Status Report on the Consideration by the TRIPS Council of the Proposal for a Waiver from Certain Provisions of the TRIPS Agreement for the Prevention, Containment and Treatment of COVID-19

Thank you, Chair.

First of all, I would like to thank the Chair of the TRIPS Council, for her status report, and for all her efforts in this important matter.

Chair, the existing intellectual property framework has turbocharged research and development into a host of new medicines, and technologies, to fight COVID-19. In just 300 days, we have gone from publishing the genetic sequence for SARS-CoV-2, to the approval of a clinically tested, and effective, vaccine, with more to come.

It is important to recognize that the IP framework was integral to this success. Without it, we wouldn’t have seen this massive surge of R&D and the unprecedented scaling up of production. We wouldn’t be talking about access to a vaccine, because there wouldn’t be one.

Now that we have these vaccines, and other innovative COVID-19 medicines and equipment, the question is, rightly, how to ensure rapid and equitable access, for all those who need it, particularly lower income countries. This afternoon, we have just heard the breaking news, that Geneva’s COVAX facility has now secured 2 billion doses of vaccines, for distribution to 190 countries, starting in Q1 2021.

Chair, until we have global vaccinations, the world cannot recover. The fastest way to get COVID-19 vaccines, treatments and tests to all who need them, irrespective of the ability to pay, is to fully fund the ACT Accelerator, of which the COVAX Facility is part. The UK has put in one billion dollars, of the global total of $5 billion raised so far, but this global vaccination initiative needs an another $4.5 billion, right now. The UK is asking all other major economies to join us and step up.

Voluntary licensing mechanisms, and existing flexibilities in the existing IP framework, also allows the transfer of, and access to, technology and know-how. Under these arrangements, AstraZeneca has reached a licensing and technology transfer agreement, with Serum Institute of India, to supply one billion doses for low and middle-income countries. Another initiative, Diatropix, brings together British and Senegalese partners, to share technology to produce 10m COVID-19 antibody tests by March 2021, for use across West Africa.

Chair, we all share the common goal of achieving rapid access to effective and affordable COVID-19 vaccines and medicines for all who need them. And it is clear that we all agree, here today, that more needs to be done to ensure that happens. The UK will continue to play an active part in discussions on this topic in the TRIPS Council.

Thank you, Chair.

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