USTR Jabbed for Blocking Congress’s Access to TRIPS Waiver Negotiations

May 4, 2022

At a pair of congressional hearings last month, legislators criticized U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai for her continued efforts to negotiate away American intellectual property rights without consulting Congress.

The annual hearings, hosted by the House Ways & Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee, centered on the Biden administration’s 2022 Trade Policy Agenda. At last year’s hearings, Ambassador Tai faced numerous questions and criticisms about President Biden’s efforts to embrace a waiver of the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement at the World Trade Organization (WTO) that provides a world minimum of IP protections.

The TRIPS waiver, originally proposed by India and South Africa and endorsed last year by the Biden administration, would strip intellectual property rights from innovators such as Pfizer and Moderna and allow generic versions of their vaccines to be produced by firms without licensing agreements. In March, USTR announced that they had reached a “compromise outcome” on the proposal with India, South Africa, and the European Union which would reportedly allow certain countries to violate the patent protections of COVID-19 vaccine technology. In the most recent development, on Tuesday the WTO announced that an “outcome document” has resulted from talks between the four negotiators, and WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala expressed her hopes that a deal could be finalized by June.

Despite having arrived at an apparent “compromise,” USTR has not yet shared the text of the agreement with the public nor with Congress. Almost a dozen members of the committees made clear to Ambassador Tai that the ideological reasons behind the TRIPS waiver were wrong and that USTR’s handling of the process has been inappropriate.