U.S. says it will push COVID vaccine waivers, but 'may take time'

U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai testifies before the Senate Finance Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., May 12, 2021. Pete Marovich/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

WASHINGTON, June 10 (Reuters) - The Biden administration is committed to efforts to waive intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines and will raise the issue with the World Trade Organization (WTO), but it may take time, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai said on Thursday.

"We will actively participate in text-based negotiations at the WTO that will be needed to make this happen. And this may take time given the complexity of the issues involved, but our goal remains to get vaccines to as many people as fast as possible," Tai said in remarks to an AFL-CIO union event.

U.S. President Joe Biden last month backed a proposed patent waiver for vaccines targeting the novel coronavirus that advocates say could help boost availability amid the pandemic.

But the pharmaceutical industry has opposed the waiver from the WTO's agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), saying it would stifle innovation and do little to effectively increase vaccine supplies that it says are hampered by trade and manufacturing barriers.

Tai defended the administration's support saying: "extraordinary circumstances call for extraordinary measures." In the meantime, "we're doing everything that we can to ramp up vaccine production capacity as quickly as we can," she added.

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Reporting by David Lawder and Susan Heavey

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