Backers of WTO vaccine waiver ask opponents to join talks - document

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A logo is pictured on the headquarters of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Geneva, Switzerland, June 2, 2020. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

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GENEVA, May 17 (Reuters) - Supporters of a proposal to waive patent rights on COVID-19 vaccines at the World Trade Organization are set to call on opponents to join the negotiations, stressing the gravity of the pandemic, a draft document showed on Monday.

Talks at the WTO on temporarily waiving IP rights have been deadlocked for months. But U.S. President Joe Biden's decision earlier this month to back talks for a waiver has raised hopes that the few remaining wealthy-country opponents could also switch camps. read more

The EU has since backed a U.S. proposal to discuss waiving patent protections, although Switzerland said it left many questions unanswered. read more

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"The cosponsors call on all delegations who have not yet indicated that they will join text-based discussions, to do so as soon as possible," the 62 proponents of the waiver, including India and South Africa that initially floated the proposal, said in a co-authored draft statement.

"Continuous mutations and emergence of new variants of SARS-COV-2 highlight the significant uncertainties and complexities of controlling SARS-COV-2 and underscore the urgency of this proposal," they said.

"A failure to respond in a timely manner on the waiver proposal undermines the legitimacy and credibility of the WTO."

That call was echoed by the WTO's chief on Monday.

"We need to sit down at the negotiating table and actually look at a text. People are dying, and the faster we can sit down and look at a text the better," said Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala at a virtual meeting of the Paris Peace Forum.

India's and South Africa's original waiver proposal last October argued that IP rules are hindering the scale-up of COVID-19 vaccine production.

Critics, including large pharmaceuticals industry groups as well as Pfizer (PFE.N) that makes a COVID-19 vaccine, say an IP waiver will not immediately increase vaccine production and that the current supply issues are more complex.

Pfizer has said any waiver could disrupt the flow of raw materials.

The statement from proponents seen by Reuters said that a new proposal would be issued soon to clarify its scope and the time period of its application.

However, experts have warned that getting agreement at the WTO, which typically operates through consensus, could still take months even with U.S. backing. read more

The next formal TRIPS council meeting at the WTO is scheduled for June 8.

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Reporting by Emma Farge, editing by John Miller

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