President Cyril Ramaphosa has welcomed the decision of the US to formally back the efforts that South Africa and India are leading at the World Trade Organisation to temporarily waive certain intellectual property (IP) rights on COVID-19 vaccines.

Initiated in October by South Africa and India, the move has now seen more than 100 countries including China support the effort to apply waivers to parts of the WTO’s Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights – known as TRIPS.

This could pave the way for developing countries to produce vaccines and other products more readily.

Western nations argue protecting intellectual property rights encouraged research and innovation and that suspending those rights would not result in a sudden surge of vaccine supply.

However, South Africa argued the current TRIPS system does not work, pointing to the failure to secure life-saving medicines during the HIV/AIDS pandemic that had cost at least 11 million African lives.

US Trade Representative Katherine Tai has confirmed the announcement despite last-minute lobbying from Republican lawmakers for the administration not to back the proposals at the WTO.

After Washington’s backing, the focus will now shift back to Geneva where negotiations on the waivers have been under way since October.

India is a major manufacturer of generics, although many of the largest generic companies are based in Western and developed countries, including Viatris, Sandoz and Teva.

World Trade Organisation’s waivers on COVID-19 vaccines: Sherwin Bryce-Pease