'Last few tweaks' being made to COVID IP waiver deal -WTO chief

GENEVA, April 14 (Reuters) - The head of the World Trade Organization told Reuters on Thursday that negotiations on an intellectual property deal for COVID-19 vaccines were ongoing between the four parties, saying they were seeking to agree on the proposal's final terms.

Since the draft compromise emerged in the media a month ago, pressure from civil society groups has been rising for the parties - the United States, the European Union, India and South Africa - to walk away from the deal. Other public figures have also criticised it such as German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, saying it is too narrowly focused on vaccines. read more

"People are saying the text is now being rejected. It is not true," Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala told Reuters by telephone. "They are still trying to iron out the last things. It's just the last few tweaks," she said, without elaborating.

Okonjo-Iweala, who took over the top job a year ago with a mandate to reinvigorate the 27-year-old institution, has been brokering the talks for the past few months in an effort to break a more than year-long stalemate at the WTO. read more

India and South Africa, backed by dozens of other WTO members, had proposed a broad waiver of IP rights for COVID-19 drugs and vaccines, but failed to overcome opposition from members like Britain and Switzerland who argued that pharmaceutical research required such protections.

The compromise proposal that Okonjo-Iweala referred to, if finalised among the four negotiators, still needs to be presented to all 164 WTO members which each hold a veto.

No date has yet been fixed for that meeting.

Okonjo-Iweala said in the same interview that she plans to meet U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai next week to discuss a ministerial trade conference at the WTO's Geneva headquarters in June and to brief U.S. Congress.

Reporting by Emma Farge; editing by Diane Craft and Stephen Coates

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